NBA Power Rankings: Feb 13, 2016

gregg-popovich-lebronWe’ve hit the All-Star break, and there are 30 games left in the season. Golden State has a pretty firm grasp on the league’s top record (48-4), so it won’t be a surprise if they eventually lock up home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s also no surprise that they once again top our power rankings just over halfway through the season. See where everybody else ranks below, and here are last week’s power rankings.

1. Golden State Warriors (48-4); same spot – The only question now remains if the Warriors will beat the ’96 Chicago Bulls’ regular season mark of 73-9. Golden State is on pace to accomplish the feat.

2. San Antonio Spurs (45-8); same spot – LeBron James recently said that he wishes he could spend lots of time around Gregg Popovich. It’s little wonder why when you consider how Popovich just seems to win every year.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-14); same spot – OKC may not catch either San Antonio or Golden State before the year is over. But they definitely can’t be overlooked once the postseason starts.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers (38-14); same spotCleveland Cavs trade rumors are a daily story right now. Ben McLemore, Trevor Ariza and Kyle Korver are all reported targets of the Cavaliers.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Dallas Mavericks5. Toronto Raptors (35-17); same spot – Raptors stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan get to stick around their home city for the All-Star game. Then it’s back to work trying to catch Cleveland in the East.

6. Boston Celtics (32-23); up 2 spots – Boston continues to surge up the standings, with big wins over the Clippers and Cavs. Now rumors have them thinking about Al Horford in the trade market.

7. LA Clippers (35-18); down 1 spot – L.A. still remains in the upper echelon of the league while Blake Griffin sits. Unfortunately, Griffin will sit four games longer after he’s healed due to a suspension.

8. Memphis Grizzlies (31-22); down 1 spot – Memphis has a tough game coming up in Toronto on the 21st of this month.

9. Atlanta Hawks (31-24); up 1 spot – The Hawks may be talking about taking their team apart, but that hasn’t stopped them from winning.

10. Miami Heat (29-24); down 1 spot – Miami goes into the break with a two-game losing streak, but they have a chance to make up for it by playing Atlanta after the break.

11. Dallas Mavericks (29-26); up 1 spot – The Mavericks can boost their record with games against the Magic and 76ers coming out of the break.

12. Indiana Pacers (28-25); up 1 spot – Now a healthy team, perhaps Indiana can climb back up the Eastern Conference standings.

michael-kidd-gilchrist13. Charlotte Hornets (27-26); up 4 spots – The Hornets are playing their best basketball of the season and once again resembling the playoff team they looked like in November and December.

14. Chicago Bulls (27-25); down 3 spots – Chicago is playing worse than any legitimate playoff team right now with four straight losses.

15. Utah Jazz (26-26); up 1 spot – Much like their location, the Utah Jazz aren’t a flashy team. However, they have good chemistry and continue holding down a playoff seed.

16. Portland Trailblazers (25-27); up 3 spots – The Trail Blazers have played a couple more games than most teams, which lightens their load in the second half of the season.

17. Detroit Pistons (27-28); down 3 spots – Detroit definitely has the talent to win, but they haven’t found a way to put together consistent play for long stretches.

18. Houston Rockets (27-28); down 3 spots – Houston is a team at a crossroads between deciding if they want to build around James Harden, or dismantle the team and get draft picks/young players in return.

john-wall-wizards19. Washington Wizards (23-28); down 1 spot – The Wizards have a pretty solid core, but injuries have kept them from putting things together.

20. Orlando Magic (23-29); same spot – Orlando has played solid against the West, but they’re just 13-19 against their own conference.

21. Denver Nuggets (22-32); up 2 spots – Emmanuel Mudiay has gradually gotten better now that he’s healthy.

22. New York Knicks (23-32); down 1 spot – The big rumor now is that Carmelo Anthony could be on his way to Cleveland. But we’ll believe it when we see it.

23. Sacramento Kings (22-31); down 1 spot – Once in the thick of the playoff hunt, Sacramento has gone just 2-8 in their last 10 games.

24. Milwaukee Bucks (22-32); same spot – Milwaukee has a nice young core, but they need veteran role players around this talent.

tyreke-evans-trade25. New Orleans Pelicans (20-33); same spot – The Pelicans got the bad news that Tyreke Evans will miss the rest of the season after knee surgery.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-37); same spot – Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine were undoubtedly the stars of the Rising Stars Challenge.

27. Brooklyn Nets (14-40); same spot – Joe Johnson reportedly isn’t interested in a contract buyout, so he’ll likely remain with Brooklyn until his deal ends.

28. Phoenix Suns (14-40); same spot – Phoenix currently owns the league’s longest losing streak at 9.

29. L.A. Lakers (11-44); same spot – Kobe Bryant gets one last chance to be in the All-Star game. Then it’s back to the dismal reality of playing his final season with one of the NBA’s worst team.

30. Philadelphia 76ers (8-45); same spot – The Sixers have a 6-16 record against the West, but they’re just 2-29 against their own conference.

Super Bowl 50 Betting: Denver vs. Carolina

denver-vs-carolinaThe Carolina Panthers rolled into Super Bowl 50 via a dominating 49-15 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Cam Newton headlined the victory with 4 total touchdowns, while the Carolina D harassed Arizona QB Carson Palmer into 6 turnovers. The Denver Broncos had a much-tougher conference championship game, barely surviving the New England Patriots by a score of 20-18. But Peyton Manning and the Broncos moved on nonetheless and will look to give the future Hall of Famer a second-career Super Bowl title in what may be his final game.

On paper it looks like the 17-1 Panthers have the advantage. However, when analyzing the matchup, each team has a solid chance to both win and cover the spread. This being said, let’s look at why both Carolina and Denver can cover the Super Bowl 50 line. Line for Super Bowl 50 (Feb. 7th at 6:30 EST)
Carolina -6 (-110)
Denver (-110)

Over 45 (-110)
Under 45 (-110)

Why Denver (+6) can cover the Spread

peyton-manningNobody is more tested in close games this season than the Broncos. The 2-point victory over New England bumped their record to 11-3 in contests decided by seven or fewer points. Beyond this, they’ve also played extremely tough competition, including the Chiefs, Patriots and Steelers all twice.

Denver also lays claim to the league’s best defense, finishing No. 1 in total defense, pass defense and sacks during the regular season. Considering how good this unit is at stopping opposing teams, it’s little wonder why the Broncos are rarely out of a game. If there’s anybody who can knock Newton out of his rhythm, it’s the Denver defense.

Of course, we can’t deny the motivation that this team will have when trying to get Manning one final victory. The 5-time MVP hinted that he’ll retire following this season, which will certainly provide some fire behind the Broncos. And despite missing seven starts due to a foot injury, Manning looked much better against the Patriots after tossing two touchdowns.

Why Carolina (-6) can cover the Spread

New Orleans Saints v Carolina PanthersBecause reigning NBA MVP Steph Curry said Carolina will win, and this guy never loses!

Seriously, though, the Panthers are expected to win for a reason: they won 17 out of 18 times this year. And Cam Newton is probably the biggest reason, proving himself to be the league’s scariest dual-threat QB. The 4-year veteran has racked up 3,837 passing yards and 636 rushing yards to go along with 45 total touchdowns. Denver may have minimized Tom Brady’s passing ability, but they could have a much harder time doing the same with Newton’s running/passing abilities.

Then we have the versatile linebacking tandem of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, who can cover slot receivers, then turn around and make huge hits on opposing running backs. These two, who combined for eight interceptions and 2 defensive TD’s, will minimize some of what Denver can do on offense.

We also can’t forget the Panthers’ offensive line, which is a big reason for Newton’s success. This unit, anchored by center Ryan Kalil, left tackle Michael Oher, right guard Trai Turner, left guard Andrew Norwell and right tackle Mike Remmers, ranked sixth in pass-blocking efficiency and has done a great job of picking up blitzes. They also paved the way for Carolina to rank second in the league in rushing.

Final Analysis

It would be a great story to see Peyton Manning go out with one final Super Bowl ring. Unfortunately, the Broncos’ problems begin and end with him, who, until the AFC Championship, had tossed just 9 TD’s compared to 17 interceptions. Denver’s run game should relieve some of the pressure for Manning, but will it be enough against a feisty Carolina defense? Meanwhile, the Panthers’ offense is in great hands with Newton, and they look poised to break through a tough Broncos D.

Score Prediction: Carolina 27 – Denver 13

George Karl and DeMarcus Cousins getting along Better

demarcus-cousins-george-karlJust three weeks ago, the Sacramento Kings looked like one of the NBA’s biggest trainwrecks. They were sitting at 1-7 and dealing with a number of reports about DeMarcus Cousins’ verbal tirade against head coach George Karl. Fast-forward to now and things are going much better for the Kings, with a 7-12 record and, more importantly, a star player and head coach who can coexist. So how did things turn around in a matter of weeks?

According to Marc J. Spears, the relationship has been helped immensely thanks to a two-hour meeting between Karl, Cousins and Rajon Rondo. The meeting was only supposed to last 15 minutes, but it ended up going much longer because it was so productive.

“It was a powerful meeting for all three of us,” Rondo said.

Rondo continued by telling Spears that he had been looking forward to a meeting with Karl for a while. And he said that the talk felt “natural” because Karl was both open-minded and positive.

“We asked him to just sit with us so we can pick his brain and share our thoughts,” Rondo explained. “What I love about [Karl] is he’s very open. George is not a dictator. ‘What can we do positively? What can we do to improve? If you can come into a meeting with no egos and everyone was humble, it just works out for the better.”

Karl was willing to listen to advice from Cousins and Rondo, who both said that the 64-year-old coach could do more teaching and be more critical during film sessions. The star players also volunteered to be the first to accept Karl’s criticisms during the sessions.

Rajon Rondo“I told him to start with me. Whatever I can do to help the team,” Rondo told Spears. “If you have to bully me or call me out, I can accept that. I’m a 10-year vet. I learned from [former Boston Celtics coach] Doc [Rivers] and the past guys that it has to start with the vets who have the most leeway on the team or the most responsibility. [Cousins and I] are both trying to change the culture, change the organization.”

Cousins discussed the purpose of meeting with Karl as well.

“We’re just trying to correct every mistake we have. We want to be a winning team,” said Cousins, “and I feel it starts with myself on down to Rondo as well.”

One thing that all three agreed on was slowing down the offense a little – but it came with a condition from Karl.

“I said, ‘OK, I will slow it down if you do what I want.’ That’s not fighting each other. That’s mutually coming together,” Karl explained. “If we have to compromise something, we will compromise something.”

After a successful first meeting with Rondo and Cousins, Karl said that he thinks communication is much more open between he and players. And now he wants to have weekly meetings with Cousins and Rondo.

“We are going to continue to communicate on a weekly basis, good or bad,” Karl explained to Yahoo Sports. “If we are in a good stretch, we are going to still communicate.”

It’s definitely good that Karl and Cousins are getting along now because the latter is key to Sacramento’s chances of winning. Cousins is averaging 28.2 PPG, 11.0 RBP and 1.5 BPG this season in 11 games. The Kings have only gone 1-7 in the eight contests that Cousins has missed, so it’s highly important that they keep him on the court.

And Rondo hopes to keep Cousins performing at a high level by giving him the same advice that he received from Kevin Garnett on the Celtics.

“He will do his own thing,” said Rondo. “I’m not trying to be his daddy. But I want to be his big brother like K.G. was to me, showing me the ropes and helping me along the way. Everything that I’m telling him, K.G. told me. Experience is everything. If someone has it and is willing to share it, I was always trying to soak in as much knowledge as possible.”

With two elite players and a coach who are all getting along, Sacramento appears headed in the right direction. But will it all culminate in a playoff appearance this season? The Kings are within striking distance, sitting 1.5 games behind Phoenix for the 8th seed in the Western Conference, so perhaps we’ll see this trio in the postseason come May.

Can Mets keep Harvey, Cespedes in the Future?

matt-harvey-mets2015 has marked the New York Mets’ return to relevancy, as they’ve all but sewn up the NL East with an 8.5-game lead over second-place Washington. The Mets’ immediate focus is no doubt on capping their division crown and preparing for the playoffs. But the futures of staff ace Matt Harvey and center fielder Yoenis Cespedes are probably in the back of management’s minds too.

The 26-year-old Harvey has had another outstanding season, going 12-7 with a 2.88 ERA thus far. Cespedes has absolutely crushed the second half of this year, now batting .299 with 33 homers and 100 RBIs. More than that, he proved to be a team player by agreeing to man center field this year.

It seems the Mets have two cornerstones that can lead the franchise into the future, given that veteran David Wright looks to be past the point of stardom. But the problem is that Cespedes will be a free agent this summer while some have pondered if New York would be better off trading Harvey.

Regarding the latter, Harvey rubbed fans and the organization the wrong way when he agreed with a doctor that he should take the field a little less to protect his career. He’s coming off a year where he had Tommy John surgery and originally said that he still wanted to pitch every fifth day. However, that’s no longer the case as he’s looking more towards rest to prevent future injuries.

yoenis-cespedes-metsAs for Cespedes, he’s a free agent this offseason and has played his way into a large future contract. So if the Mets want to keep him, they’re going to have to ante up some money. But that’s easier said than done when considering that this is a franchise which has tightened its pocketbook following the Madoff fiasco that had them on the books for hundreds of millions.

Meanwhile, there are many potential suitors for Cespedes, with Chicago, Los Angeles, San Frandisco, Philadelphia and Seattle all rumored to be in the market. It wouldn’t even be a total stretch to see the crosstown and deep-pocketed Yankees make a play for Cespedes too, although they already have Carlos Beltran hitting well and need pitching more than anything.

The 29-year-old has been called a “businessman” at heart, and he’s likely to take the biggest and best offer available. Cespedes should fetch at least $175 million on the free agent market – a price that the Mets ‘could’ pay, but will they?

Going back to Harvey, he’s at least locked up for a few more years. The question is only if New York would ship him out to start fresh with new players and prospects. After all, he’s complained about everything from wanting to rehab in Port St. Lucie instead of New York, to when the team suggested a six-man rotation that he worried would throw off his routine.

Things only got further out of whack when Harvey considered following the advice of a doctor and skipping the postseason over fears of a second Tommy John surgery. This of course brought up the hypocrisy of his six-man rotation complaints, which further added fuel to the fire.

But for the time being, New York has reason to celebrate their approaching playoff appearance. They have a strong chance to make the World Series if things go right. However, when it’s all over, win or lose, they have some big decisions to make regarding the futures of Cespedes and Harvey. Both are proven winners, but both provide their own dilemmas for New York management to work through.

2015 Michigan Wolverines may take a While to return to Glory

michigan-jim-harbaughWhen Lloyd Carr retired as Michigan head coach in 2007, it didn’t seem like there would be much drop off when Rich Rodriguez assumed the reigns. But since then, Michigan football has been plagued by six years of mediocrity, and one 11-2 season thanks to Brady Hoke’s best year during an otherwise forgetful 4-year tenure. So fans of the Wolverines owe little apology to anyone for their unbridled enthusiasm with Jim Harbaugh now coaching the team. Unfortunately, this enthusiasm may be a bit low key for the remainder of the 2015 season.

The unranked Utah Utes delivered sobering reality for the program last Thursday. Utah grabbed the lead early and never looked as threatened as the 24-17 final score might suggest. But perhaps the Wolverines could have threatened if not for some crucial mistakes.

The most-obvious mistakes are owed to Iowa transfer quarterback Jake Rudock, who had three interceptions on the afternoon. One was a painful red-zone interception while the other was a pick-six that hurt any chance of a comeback.

However, this loss was more than just about one guy tossing picks. The Michigan running game only managed a paltry 76 yards on 29 carries – good for 2.6 yards per carry. The offensive line didn’t do the greatest job of creating holes and the running backs didn’t offer any sort of explosion, with the longest run being just 7 yards.

jim-harbuagh-utan“[Offensive line play] improved in the second half,” Harbaugh said. “I think we played a little bit tentative in the first half, not coming off the ball like we need to.”

It’s not like the offense can look towards the receivers for big-play potential either; after all, there’s not one pass catcher on the roster who tallied a reception for 35 yards or more last season.

Moving to the other side of the ball, Michigan doesn’t feature a defense with big-play potential. This unit only forced 10 turnovers last year – good for 126th in Division 1A – and they got just one turnover against the Utes. It was a mere interception on a half-time Hail Mary attempt by Utah.

If there’s one thing that the defense did good, it was holding star running back Devontae Booker to 69 yards on 22 carries. But on the downside, QB Travis Wilson burned them for 53 yards while they were trying to contain Booker.

One takeaway from the Utah game is that college football’s winningest program won’t be restored to glory overnight – even with a fiery Harbaugh screaming into his headset. This team is coming off a 5-7 season under Hoke and they’ve lost at least seven games in five of the past season seasons.

This wouldn’t be Harbaugh’s first time taking over a reclamation project since he did so at Stanford before making the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers relevant again. Success with the Niners came quick, with Harbaugh going 13-3 in just his first season. But at Stanford, he was just 4-8 and 5-7 before engineering a big turnaround. Based on Michigan’s 2015 schedule, the Stanford scenario might be a little more realistic. Games at Maryland, vs. Michigan State, vs. Northwestern, at Minnesota, at Penn State and vs. Ohio State all figure to test this team greatly.

But it appears that Harbaugh is more than prepared to deal with the ups and downs. He said that overall he was “impressed” with his team’s effort in the first outing. And if Harbaugh seems pretty lenient about his school’s losing effort, it’s probably because he knows better days are coming in the future.

Oakland A’s 2015 Season gets Worse: Time to dismantle Team?

2015-oakland-asComing into the 2015 MLB season, the Oakland A’s were by no means considered a favorite to win the World Series. But given that they were coming off three straight trips to the postseason, the A’s were at least expected to be competitive in the AL West. Fast-forward to now, 51 games into the season, and they have the worst record in the American league at 19-32.

On paper, this doesn’t look like such a bad team, with a 3.25 ERA from starters and ninth-place rank among AL teams in runs and OPS – not bad for a non-offensive team. However, where this goes downhill is the bullpen, which is pitching a league-worst 4.91 ERA. Their defense hasn’t helped matters either with 45 errors already.

There are some encouraging signs since top reliever Sean Doolittle is back from injury and should help lower that 4.91 ERA mark. Plus infielder Ben Zobrist is now healthy after a knee injury forced him out of action. And manager Bob Melvin pointed out just how badly these guys were missed by saying the following:

“These are very important guys for us. You lose your No. 3 hitter and closer, it’s going to take its toll on you. Not only production-wise should we be better but also psychologically, two of our better players complementing 25 guys, making us feel better about who you are.”

oakland-scott-kazmirIt’s definitely nice to have these two back, however, Zobrist and Doolittle are hardly enough to right the ship. This is especially the case when CF Coco Crisp, 1B Ike Davis and pitchers Drew Pomeranz, Eric O’Flaherty and Jarrod Parker are still hurt. Assuming Oakland could start the season over and get these guys healthy, they certainly would be a competitive team. But the unfortunate reality is that you can’t just hit a reset button, and the A’s may want to consider thinking about the future.

Assuming Oakland doesn’t pull the trigger now and trade for prospects, they could be mired at the bottom of the AL West for years to come. After all, they have one of the league’s worst farm systems, and they’re not a big-market team that can just shell out millions to quickly get contender pieces.

In reality, other contenders are already looking at what they could get from Oakland, including left-hander Scott Kazmir, Tyler Clippard and Zobrist. Kazmir is especially an attractive option because he’s good enough to start in any rotation, and he makes a reasonable $13 million per season. Clippard has been one of the few brights spots among Oakland relievers with his 2.25 ERA. The only holdup here is his $8.3 million salary, which is a fair amount for a reliever. As for Zobrist, he’s still a good-hitting infielder who could be an upgrade at second base for playoff contenders.

There are still over 100 games left in this season, which makes it fathomable that Oakland could make up the 12 games that they currently sit behind AL leader Houston. However, the much-better alternative is ushering in the future now by getting rid of some attractive assets that could fetch big-time prospects.