Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

By Ahmad Jabr

KUWAIT: In ad­di­tion to its usual cov­er­age of the NBA, Kuwait Times in­tro­duces a new fea­ture this year: the NBA Power Rank­ings. It is a weekly list rank­ing each team based on its per­for­mance dur­ing the week. The ac­tual record for each team (put be­tween brack­ets, for games played as of Sun­day morn­ing in Kuwait’s lo­cal time) plays a role in the as­sess­ment process but is not the main fac­tor for de­cid­ing each team’s rank­ing, thus mak­ing it dif­fer­ent from tra­di­tional league stand­ings. In this week’s edition, the Golden State War­riors and Cleve­land Cava­liers lead the pack ahead of their highly an­tic­i­pated fi­nals’ re­match in this year’s Christ­mas Day spe­cials. (For any com­ments or sug­ges­tions, e-mail the writer at: a.jabr@kuwait­times.net) 1- Golden State War­riors (27 - 4) Last week: 1-

Dur­ing their on­go­ing seven-game win­ning streak, the War­riors have shown the type of the of­fen­sive jug­ger­naut it was feared to be­come when Kevin Du­rant joined the team this past off­sea­son. Their nar­row win over the Pis­tons on Fri­day brought them down to earth a lit­tle, and set up for an ex­cit­ing Christ­mas Day clash against the Cavs. 2- Cleve­land Cava­liers (22 - 5) Last week: 4 -

Speak­ing of the de­fend­ing champs, the Cavs en­tered Sun­day’s show­down rid­ing their own wave of mo­men­tum be­hind their own fourgame win­ning streak, win­ning nine of their last 10, and fresh off see­ing LeBron James sur­pass Moses Malone to be­come eighth in the list of the NBA’s ca­reer lead­ers for points. 3- San An­to­nio Spurs (24 - 6) Last week: 2 -

The Spurs ended the Rock­ets’ 10-game win­ning streak with a road win over Hous­ton Tues­day, be­fore los­ing to the Clip­pers in Los An­ge­les two nights later; only their sec­ond road loss this sea­son. Strong per­for­mance out­side of their home court will come es­pe­cially valu­able come play­offs time. 4- Toronto Rap­tors (21 - 8) Last week: 5 -

The Rap­tors found some suc­cess last week be­hind solid play from Player-of-the-Week DeMar DeRozan, but it was fel­low back­court team­mate Kyle Lowry’s hero­ics that were in­stru­men­tal in his team’s last three wins; es­pe­cially on Fri­day against Utah. 5- Hous­ton Rock­ets (22 - 9) Last week: 3 -

Los­ing to the Spurs at home and see­ing their 10-game win­ning streak get snapped did not prob­a­bly hurt as much as their loss to the Griz­zlies on Fri­day, which gave them a glim­mer of the tough de­fense they are surely to ex­pect and will have to fig­ure out a way to deal with should they in­tend to make a deep play­off run. 6- Los An­ge­les Clip­pers (22 - 9) Last week: 6 -

The Clip­pers beat the Spurs on Thurs­day de­spite play­ing with­out in­jured for­ward Blake Grif­fin, then lost to the Mavs the fol­low­ing night when Chris Paul sat out for in­jury as well. While they hope to stay com­pet­i­tive as Grif­fin re­cov­ers from his manda­tory an­nual long-term in­jury, the Clip­pers know for sure they are go­ing nowhere with­out their star point guard. 7- Mem­phis Griz­zlies (20 - 12) Last week: 8 -

Mem­phis’ gritty de­fense re­turned to form as of late. The Griz­zlies en­tered Sun­day’s Christ­mas Day games ranked first in the NBA in de­fen­sive rat­ings, al­low­ing their op­po­nents to score only an av­er­age of 99.7 points so far this sea­son. And while the same can­not be said about their of­fense, they had no prob­lem out­shoot­ing the Rock­ets in their 115-109 vic­tory on Fri­day. 8- Ok­la­homa City Thun­der (18 - 12) Last week: 9 -

‘Mr Triple Dou­ble’ is back at it again. In Ok­la­homa’s Fri­day win over Bos­ton, Rus­sell West­brook recorded his 14th triple-dou­ble this sea­son and 51st in his ca­reer, while also snap­ping the Celtics’ streak of 230 straight games with­out al­low­ing a triple-dou­ble. 9- Utah Jazz (18 - 13) Last week: 7 -

In­juries have left a dent on an oth­er­wise very solid sea­son so far for the Jazz, leav­ing us to only won­der where they would have been to­day with a healthy squad. They en­tered Sun­day ranked eighth in of­fen­sive rat­ings, fourth in de­fen­sive rat­ings and sev­enth in net rat­ings. 10- Bos­ton Celtics (17 - 13) Last week: 12 -

The Celtics won four of their last five games, with their only loss com­ing at the hands of Rus­sell West­brook and the Thun­der. Mean­while, Isa­iah Thomas has fared well in that span against elite point guards, in­clud­ing West­brook, In­di­ana’s Jeff Teague, and Mem­phis’ Mike Con­ley. 11- Char­lotte Hor­nets (17 - 13) Last week: 13 -

Af­ter miss­ing his team’s loss to the Celtics on Dec 17, Kimba Walker re­turned to the lineup to lead the Hor­nets to a three-game win­ning streak and key vic­to­ries over fel­low Eastern Con­fer­ence play­offs con­tenders in the Hawks and Bulls. 12- Mil­wau­kee Bucks (14 - 14) Last week: 10 -

Two back-to-back losses to the Cavs pre­vented the Bucks from hav­ing a five-game win­ning streak, which would have been their long­est this sea­son. They re­bounded from those loses with a state­ment win over the Wizards be­hind Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo’s ca­reer-high 39 points. 13- New York Knicks (16 - 13) Last week: 14 -

Fol­low­ing the fi­asco in­volv­ing Phil Jack­son’s con­tro­ver­sial state­ments, Carmelo An­thony again found him­self in the spot­light with neg­a­tive com­ments made about him by his for­mer coach Ge­orge Karl in his lat­est book. Mean­while, Der­rick Rose has been very ac­tive in fu­el­ing his team’s lat­est vic­to­ries over the Pac­ers and Magic. 14- Chicago Bulls (14 - 15) Last week: 11 -

Frus­tra­tion is sink­ing in in the Windy City, as the Bulls scram­ble to find an­swers for their re­cent un­der­whelm­ing per­for­mance that saw them lose five of their last six games. Matches against the Pac­ers (twice) and Bucks this week of­fer a chance for Chicago to re­bound and reestab­lish its po­si­tion in the East’s play­offs race. 15- At­lanta Hawks (15 - 15) Last week: 17 -

The Hawks are 2-1 since los­ing Dwight Howard to in­jury, in­clud­ing a key win over the Thun­der. But whether they can find a way to keep win­ning or not be­fore the Feb 23 trade dead­line is likely go­ing to de­ter­mine if freeagent-to-be for­ward Paul Mill­sap re­mains with the team or gets traded be­fore then. 16- In­di­ana Pac­ers (15 - 16) Last week: 15 -

The Pac­ers en­tered Sun­day hold­ing on to the eighth spot in the Eastern Con­fer­ence stand­ings, ahead of their matchup against ninth­place Chicago. Their up-and-down sea­son has led star Paul Ge­orge to pro­claim that in­con­sis­tency has be­come syn­ony­mous with his team’s iden­tity. 17- Wash­ing­ton Wizards (13 - 16) Last week: 18 -

The Wizards had a doubt­ful re­sult in its early test against fel­low Eastern Con­fer­ence play­off con­tenders, los­ing to the Bucks and Pac­ers and beat­ing the strug­gling Bulls last week. The test con­tin­ues with matches against the Bucks and Pac­ers tonight and Wed­nes­day re­spec­tively. 18- Detroit Pis­tons (14 - 18) Last week: 16 -

Dur­ing their cur­rent five-game los­ing streak, the Pis­tons al­lowed their op­po­nents to score an av­er­age of 117.5, and their de­fen­sive woes have drawn the ire of out­spo­ken coach Stan Van Gundy. They pushed the War­riors to the limit on Fri­day but came up short of se­cur­ing a vic­tory in the end. 19- Sacramento Kings (13 - 17) Last week: 21 -

The Kings have won three straight games and six of their last 10, but most im­por­tantly, DeMar­cus Cousins has been un­stop­pable as of late, av­er­ag­ing around 29 points per game in De­cem­ber, and even scor­ing 32 points (in­clud­ing three 3-point­ers) against the Wolves’ front­court of Karl-An­thony Towns and Gorgui Dieng on Fri­day. 20- Den­ver Nuggets (12 - 18) Last week: 20 -

The Nuggets gave up an eight-point lead with less than two min­utes re­main­ing on Fri­day, and al­lowed the Hawks to go on a 9-0 run and snatch a 109-108 vic­tory. A win there would have made Den­ver win­ners of four of their last five games. 21- Or­lando Magic (14 - 18) Last week: 24 -

The Magic blocked a fran­chise-record nine shots in the first quar­ter alone (11 to­tal) in their vic­tory over the Lak­ers on Fri­day, which is a tes­ti­mony to their re­cently im­proved de­fense that ranked eighth in the league in the last five games. 22- Port­land Trail Blaz­ers (13 - 19) Last week: 19 -

Damian Lil­lard played well for the Blaz­ers over the past cou­ple of weeks, but there is lit­tle that he could do when his team al­lowed their op­po­nents to score an av­er­age of 122 (!) points in its last five games - all losses. They will need a lot of luck when they host the league’s best of­fense, the Rap­tors, on Wed­nes­day. 23- Mi­ami Heat (10 - 21) Last week: 23 -

There is no doubt that Shaquille O’Neal de­serves to have his no. 32 jer­sey re­tired in Mi­ami, as he played an ex­tremely im­por­tant role in the team’s first ti­tle win and in set­ting up a win­ning cul­ture for the fran­chise. In four sea­sons with the Heat, O’Neal av­er­aged 19.6 points, 9.1 re­bounds and 1.9 blocks per game. 24- Min­nesota Tim­ber­wolves (9 - 20) Last week: 27 -

With Zach LaVine’s 40 points in Fri­day’s loss against the Kings, the Tim­ber­wolves be­came the first team in NBA his­tory to have three play­ers un­der the age of 22 score 40 points in a game (the two oth­ers be­ing An­drew Wig­gins and Karl-An­thony Towns), per the Elias Sports Bureau. 25- New Or­leans Pel­i­cans (11 - 21) Last week: 25 -

Fri­day’s win over the Heat was more about An­thony Davis’ dom­i­nant per­for­mance rather than the team’s much-needed vic­tory. Go­ing against one of the league’s best shot-block­ers in Has­san White­side, Davis fin­ished with 28 points on 10-17 shoot­ing (in­clud­ing 2-3 from the three-point line), 22 re­bounds (a ca­reer high) and four blocks. 26- Dal­las Mav­er­icks (9 - 12) Last week: 28 -

Dirk Now­itzki re­turned for the Mavs against the Clip­pers on Fri­day af­ter miss­ing 14 games for in­jury, and his 17 points in 15 min­utes pro­vided the spark that ig­nited Dal­las’ vic­tory over the team with the league’s fifth best record. 27- Los An­ge­les Lak­ers (11 - 22) Last week: 22 -

The Lak­ers en­tered the Christ­mas Day match against the Lak­ers on a four-game los­ing streak, and los­ing 12 of their last 13 games. Their main is­sue dur­ing that stretch has been their in­abil­ity to pro­tect dou­ble-digit leads, blow­ing a 19-point lead in both of their losses to the Heat and Hor­nets last week. 28- Phoenix Suns (9 - 21) Last week: 26 -

Coach Earl Watson is still try­ing to fig­ure out a way to insert Dra­gan Bender into the ro­ta­tion, or at least give him any mean­ing­ful min­utes. The lot­tery pick prospect played only two (garbage time) min­utes in the Suns’last three games. 29- Philadel­phia 76ers (7 - 22) Last week: 30 -

Coach Brett Brown might want to pon­der pair­ing Joel Em­biid and Ner­lens Noel to­gether in the front­court as both cen­ters mu­tu­ally de­sire; at least since Jahlil Okafor has mostly been over­shad­owed play­ing along­side rookie stand­out Em­biid. 30- Brook­lyn Nets (7 - 22) Last week: 29 -

At last teams with bad records like the 76ers and Mavs can look up to a deep NBA Draft class this up­com­ing off­sea­son. The Nets, who cur­rently share the league’s worst record with Philadel­phia, are most likely go­ing to lose their lot­tery pick to Bos­ton, who has the right to swap first round picks in the 2017 Draft, cour­tesy of the 2013 Kevin Gar­nett - Paul Pierce trade.

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