With brilliant play since the All-Star break and a little help from his friends, Damian Lillard has led the Trail Blazers into sole possession of the Western Conference’s eighth seed (James Schumacher/Flickr).
With fewer than 10 games remaining on each team’s regular-season schedule, valuable playoff seeding is still up for grabs all over the NBA standings. Some teams, like the Celtics, Blazers and Raptors, look like they’re hitting their stride at just the right moment, building momentum that they hope will continue through the playoffs. Others, like the Hawks and Cavaliers, are just hoping that they can stop the bleeding before it’s too late. As always, the result is much debate and movement in the penultimate regular-season edition of our power rankings.
Biggest Jumps: Portland Trail Blazers (+8), Toronto Raptors (+5), Denver Nuggets (+5), New Orleans Pelicans (+5)
Biggest Falls: Minnesota Timberwolves (-14), Detroit Pistons (-9), Atlanta Hawks (-7)
Blake Murphy interviews second-year Raptors guard Delon Wright.
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O Canada! Our home and native land! Blake Murphy, who writes about the Raptors for ESPN TrueHoop’s Raptors Republic and The Athletic among other sites, joins the podcast to share his knowledge on team topics such as how trade deadline acquisitions Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker enhance lineup flexibility and the irony of Jonas Valanciunas’ situation in that the better he plays seemingly the less chance he has of sticking around next season. Among other salient team-centric subjects, Murphy addresses how Kyle Lowry could have better handled his controversial wrist injury. Unfortunately, this episode does not come with universal healthcare, but here are some soothing excerpts to help alleviate those pains of yours. Plus, preexisting conditions do not preclude you from enjoying:
4:21-5:09 on Serge Ibaka’s fit with the Raptors:
“He’s had a nice positive impact. The 3-point shooting, he’s knocking down 40 percent of his shots on 4.5 looks per game. The best thing for the Raptors is that most of them have been above the break. Normally the Raptors get a lot of corner shooting, especially from their power forward position, but as Ibaka has played some center, he’s given them a nice pop threat, which is a different wrinkle for guys like DeRozan, and when he’s back, Lowry to use. The Raptors defense has been much much better since the trade deadline. They’re seventh in the NBA in Defensive Rating over the last 10 games. That’s not all owing to Ibaka, but he’s been a nice rim-protecting presence…Ibaka’s seeing a lot of time at center and in close games they’re closing with Ibaka [there].”
Foul trouble limited Andre Roberson to 29 minutes in Game 6, as Klay Thompson erupted for 41 points (Erik Drost/Creative Commons).
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Despite Oklahoma City’s Game 6 collapse and squandering of a 3-1 series lead, Welcome to Loud City‘s Marina Mangiaracina explains why the Thunder stand a legitimate chance of upsetting the mighty Golden State Warriors in a decisive Game 7. Her prescription? Lots of minor adjustments, which include extra shots for Dion Waiters and Serge Ibaka, smarter defensive switching and Andre Roberson logging more court time to help counteract Klay Thompson’s explosive scoring. Below are some noteworthy excerpts:
1:59 –2:26: “I think the No. 1 key is getting more shots for Serge Ibaka and Dion Waiters. Waiters had about the same amount of shots (in Game 6) – five or six – that (Andre) Roberson and (Steven) Adams had, and given his offensive abilities, it’s an embarrassment that he’s getting so few opportunities…(Kevin) Durant and (Russell) Westbrook were just taking too many bad shots. When you move the ball around more, it helps out.” Continue reading
Chuck Chaney, left, with Tulsa Shock head coach Fred Williams
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Following Tuesday’s win over the Wizards, we caught up with Chuck Chaney of ThunderObsessed.com to discuss the current state of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Chuck is encouraged by the increased space new coach Billy Donovan’s system has afforded the offense, but he’s wary of the Thunder’s lack of defensive intensity. It’s still “extended training camp” for this team and coach, Chuck asserts, but they won’t be a championship contender if they can’t find a way to defend.
Some notable sections include:
5:30-6:00: Interviewing Scott Brooks “was like talking to a wall, and the paint’s drying,” given that he was fond of using “Thunder speak.” Conversely, Billy Donovan is a “refreshing” personality, at least from a media perspective.
6:30-6:55: “Donovan really emphasizes that extra pass,” allowing Westbrook and company to flourish. “He (Westbrook) is the best player on this team because of Billy Donovan right now.”