Kamenetzky Bros. Power Rankings: Where is Miami’s Motivation?

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Brian Shaw Phil JacksonI covered the Lakers in 2010-11 when they were chasing a third straight title and four straight Finals appearances. It was a strange experience.

That group started the season 13-2, feasting on a home-heavy, fairly soft schedule. But from there, warning signs started popping up. They had several multiple-game losing streaks, and dropped games to some absolutely hideous teams (the 19-win Cleveland Cavaliers, for example).

Those Lakers, save a brilliant run of 17 victories in 18 games coming out of the All-Star Break, rarely looked dominant, and struggled against better competition.

Despite closing with five straight losses, it was assumed by fans, media, and the Lakers themselves that they could flip the proverbial switch once the postseason arrived. They got the benefit of the doubt, because everyone knew the Lakers were saving their best stuff for when it really mattered.

And, of course, they were soundly embarrassed by the Mavericks in the second round.

With the benefit of hindsight, picking out their red flags wasn’t tough. Many we knew were there, but wrongly assumed would go away.

Which brings me to the Heat.

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Kamenetzky Bros. Power Rankings: Trying to Make Sense of Nuggets

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nateonrimThrow a dart at their schedule, and at any particular moment the Denver Nuggets could look like the worst team in basketball or a monumental success. They opened 1-4, won 10 of their next 12, then not long after dropped eight straight.

In the aggregate, Denver is more or less what people figured — a good-but-not-great team capable of making the playoffs, but certainly no lock to do so.

The bigger question for the Nuggets going forward is whether they made the right move in hiring Brian Shaw to replace George Karl after a 57-win season. Shaw’s authority was tested when veteran guard Andre Miller – never known as a people person even when happy, and having fallen out of Shaw’s rotationt – unloaded on his coach while sitting on the bench during Wednesday’s home loss to Philadelphia.

The Nuggets initially suspended Miller but then rescinded the suspension and put him on leave. Miller, says the team, will re-join the Nuggets on Monday and according to the Denver Post is – shocker – now on the trade block.

DEN_Miller_AndreImportant developments, but for Denver what matters more than Miller’s Mile High future is the way in which Shaw handled the problem. It represented an important test, something Shaw understood.

“We dealt with it in the locker room after the game, and then the next day I just felt it was important, in lieu of practicing I sat down with my staff and each player on the team, and we probably took about three hours to get through everybody, and just talk about what happened and what we weren’t going to accept and what we weren’t going to tolerate,” he said.

Shaw viewed Miller’s outburst as a symptom of the losing.

“What I was trying to demonstrate to our team is that’s what happens with losing teams, you start to splinter off and go in different directions, point the fingers, and blame everybody else,” he said. “Phil (Jackson) used to burn sage when our team would go through (slumps), to try and get all the demons out.

“It wouldn’t go over if I tried to do something like that, but just talking it out, and airing things out for me was important to let everybody know that these kinds of things happen during the season and this is when you have to stay together, more than any other time.”

The next night, the Nuggets snapped their eight-game losing streak by beating Memphis.

“It seemed like everybody was kind of liberated, and more free in the way that they played,” Shaw said.

On Sunday, the Nuggets made it two straight wins, overwhelming the Lakers with 77 second-half points en route to a 137-115 victory. I’ll leave it to those who have watched each of Denver’s games to evaluate Shaw as a tactician. In reality, player management is the most challenging part of an NBA head coach’s job, and without question Shaw experienced more high tension BS in L.A. than he will ever see in Denver, something he alluded to Sunday night.

So in his first crisis, Shaw remained calm and addressed it head on. (As opposed to, say, demoting a high-priced assistant to scouting report duties.) Should the Nuggets keep a sense of momentum going forward, the week’s events could go a long way toward establishing Shaw, long-respected as a player and assistant, as a solid head man.

On to the rankings.

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Kamenetzky Bros. Power Rankings: Bynum Fathead Night Canceled

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BynumWhen the Cavs signed Andrew Bynum last summer to a creatively structured, heavily incentivized contract, it was seen as a low-risk, high-reward move capable of pushing Cleveland at the very least into the lower half of the Eastern Conference playoff ladder.

Clearly that last part isn’t happening. At least not with Bynum around. The Cavs have suspended Bynum indefinitely, and according to multiple sources are shopping him heavily.

The good news? Aside from completely ruining Andrew Bynum Fathead Night on Sunday at the Q — the giveaway has been canceled — the Cavs could still make lemonade out of their seven-foot lemon.

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Sheridan’s MVP Rankings: Dec. 25 Edition — LBJ and Wi Tu Lo

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First off, play this video. It is my Christmas present to y’all, and you are guaranteed to laugh at least once while going through this column. And never forget: Laughter kills the blues.

You may end up shaking your head, too, because it is an extremely subjective thing to be ranking so many top-tier players who are currently having top-tier seasons. I’ve been saying through the first third of the season that this is a four-man race this NBA season, and the Clippers’ recent surge has turned it into a five-man race.

Take the guys from spots 4 through 10, and they could collectively call themselves Wi Tu Lo.

And you know what? They’d have a valid argument. But that is the deal when things are packed at the top, as the NBA standings are as Santa Claus returns home to the North Pole.

Wi Tu Lo could be the calling cry of a dozen NBA teams, too – all of them in the Eastern Conference unless you make it a baker’s dozen by adding in the Memphis Grizzlies, the Western Conference’s biggest underachievers. Word from Hollinger is that Marc Gasol is officially changing his name to Bang Ding Ow.

So as we trudge through a season in which we flip from watching Kyle Korver extend his consecutive games 3-point record (he’s almost at 100), wonder whether the Sixers will push a game to overtime and give themselves a chance (they are 4-1 in OT games, 4-19 in all other games), and find other ways to kill time until the West Coast games come on the telly, it gives us time to remember the names of those pilots and summon the spirit of Sum Ting Wong as we make a suggestion to incoming Commissioner Adam Silver: Please, please spare us from any more years of looking forward to the spring with absolute dread, knowing that the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs (and the second round, too) will be unwatchable.

The solution: Let East teams play West teams in the postseason. Seed the teams 1 through 16, give a bonus to teams that win their division (no lower than No. 8 seed?), and bracket the playoffs to we can get a taste of the interconference games that have made this season borderline watchable any time there is not a Heat-Pacers or Warriors-Clippers game on the schedule.

Fortunately, David Stern has dropped one of those two on us for Christmas night. Thanks, Dave. And you’re welcome for the chuckle I’m sure you got when playing that video up above.

So on to the rankings we go, with yet a new No. 1.

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Kamenetzky Bros. Power Rankings: Who is East’s Sleeper Team?

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Andre DrummondDoing a radio hit over the weekend, I was asked who has the best chance to upset either Miami or Indiana in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

In reality, for either to lose a series before the conference finals will require injuries, a lack of attention to detail essentially unprecedented in postseason history, or both.

For the record, we settled on Detroit as a potential apple cart upender, because the Pistons do have – for a sub-.500 team, that is – a lot of individual talent, and their size makes them unconventional. But the intellectual exercise only reinforces the real answer: “Nobody.”

In the West, the situation is completely different. Before the season, four teams – the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Warriors – were seen as legitimate Finals contenders, with perhaps a few outliers tossing the Rockets in the mix. But the list of teams capable of beating a top contender round-to-round?

Any team good enough to make the top eight, really.

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