Bernucca: Among the Elite, Thunder the Team to Beat

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Kawhi Leonard A look at the overall NBA standings shows four teams at the top – Indiana, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Miami – separated by one game in the loss column. In fact, they were dead even until three of them lost Sunday. 

Just a notch below them are three more teams – Houston, the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland – separated by two games in the loss column. They also would have been dead even had the Blazers held on Sunday against the Rockets.

Let’s call these teams the Magnificent Seven, because your NBA champion is somewhere among them. Dismiss any of them at your own peril; these are the only teams who, at the season’s three-quarter pole, have won at least two-third of their games.

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Bernucca: Can the Eastern Conference Even Field an All-Star team?

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AS14_NewOrleans_LogosheetAmid its myriad injuries, its dozen teams below .500 and its 44-98 record against the Western Conference, 159299855_Rondo_ASPortsthere is a looming question regarding the Eastern Conference:

Can the East even field an All-Star team?

A year ago, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Tyson Chandler, Kyrie Irving, Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday were among the East’s All-Stars. You can make the argument – irrefutable in some cases, strong in others – that none of those players should be invited back this season.

And a handful of the usual suspects with All-Star resumes – Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Al Horford – won’t fill the void because they have been injured or awful.

Not even Rudy Gay – who at $17.9 million is the league’s highest-paid player who never has been an All-Star - can grab one of the spots now that he has been traded to the West.

So who will be filling the dozen spots? Lotsa Pacers, lotsa Heat and lotsa guys making their All-Star debuts.

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Bernucca: Title contention a bridge too far for troubled Knicks, Nets

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brooklyn bridgeThe Brooklyn Bridge is one of the great landmarks of our country.

And right now, it connects the home boroughs of perhaps the NBA’s two most disappointing teams this season.

Remember all the back-and-forth this summer between members of the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets? Jason Kidd retired from the Knicks to coach the Nets. Raymond Felton questioned his Knicks being ranked below the Nets. Paul Pierce said it was time for the Nets to start running the city. J.R. Smith called Pierce “bitter” about having to leave Boston.

All fun stuff to help fuel a rivalry that already had a pretty good fire raging over which was the best team in New York.

Now? Given the way the Knicks and Nets have started the season, the best team in New York might be the Gauchos.

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SH Blog: Warriors and Bogut Agree To Three Year Extension; Wizards Make First Trade; LeBron Claims He Has No Rival

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Andrew Bogut Tim DuncanWhile the headlines on Friday evening were dominated by the first trade of the young NBA season — Washington and Phoenix completed a deal centered around Emeka Okafor, Marcin Gortat and a 2014 1st round draft pick — one team out West made yet another under-the-radar move that could alter the landscape of the Western Conference.

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SH Blog: Chris Bosh is happy with his role with the Heat; Al Jefferson sprains ankle

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Chris_Bosh_cropOne of the only things as important to me as basketball is TV. Last week, they came together fantastically when Chris Bosh showed up on the best show on TV, Parks and Recreation. Bosh was only on screen for a few seconds, but they were some very memorable seconds. Check them out here.

Bosh isn’t Parks‘ first NBA player, of course. Roy Hibbert had a recurring role a couple seasons ago. Here’s hoping for a showdown in the near future — if not in Pawnee, then at least in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It was so good last time, why not do it again?

Bosh is also the subject of today’s first news item, so let’s get right to the latest from around the NBA:

  • Chris Bosh is happy with his role in Miami, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: “LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, it would have been easy for Bosh to feel lost, adrift, perhaps longing for his own platform. But Big Three and third wheel are merely the basketball part of equation. Instead, Bosh has taken his championship platform and crafted his own stage, on the web, on television, in various media projects. It is why the member of the Big Three who would seem most likely to want to leave as a free agent in the offseason instead feels remarkably comfortable in his championship skin. “We have a lot of great players here; we’ve got LeBron, Dwyane,” Bosh said. “I’m not going to be crazy or be disrespectful to this team and take over their positions. I’m going to play my role to the best of my ability. As far as visibility is concerned, we have a unique opportunity to just really get out there and do some unique things. And, really, I try to take the bull by the horns and just try to build relationships that I want to build. And if I have certain opportunities that come to me, I’m going to take them.” “
  • GSW_Barnes_HarrisonSome mixed news for Warriors fans, via Marcus Thompson II of the Contra Costa Times: “Warriors forward Harrison Barnes likely won’t play the two exhibition games in China next week. Golden State is deciding to rest Barnes so the inflammation in his left foot will subside. According to a team official, Barnes does not have a condition, such as plantar fasciitis, and the ailment is something that just developed over time. Barnes was in the gym more than any player in the month leading up to training camp, and word coming out of Golden State is his injury is just a byproduct of that. The expectation in Warriors world is that Barnes’ injury is nothing to be too worried about. But given the injury history, all fingers are crossed.”
  • Sometimes, there’s a news item that is more interesting for what it denies than what it confirms. This one, from ESPN.com’s Michael Wallace on Michael Beasley, is one of those: “Beasley needed treatment to reduce swelling above his eye following Thursday’s game against Detroit, and reports initially said the reason was that he struck himself in the face out of frustration for mistakes on the court. Beasley said Friday he did hit himself as he ran back down the court during the third quarter of the win. But Beasley, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and team officials said the wound above Beasley’s right eye was the result of an inadvertent blow he took from Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko as he attempted to block a shot in the third quarter, not from a self-inflicted punch. “I watched the video, and it does look like I knocked the mess out of myself,” Beasley said before Friday’s preseason game against the Charlotte Bobcats at the Sprint Center. “I had everybody in the world calling me and asking, ‘Why you so crazy?’”"
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  • Anthony BennettThe top two picks in the last draft faced off yesterday as the Cavaliers took on the Magic, and both looked good. Jodie Valade of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has the story, plus an outstanding mangled metaphor from Kyrie Irving: “It took nearly two full games, a bevy of missed defensive assignments, more than a dozen shot attempts that included a couple air balls, but Anthony Bennett finally showed up Friday. The Cavaliers’ No. 1 draft choice made his first real appearance of his short NBA career in his second preseason game, as he suddenly found his shooting touch while scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter to help Cleveland hold on to a 110-105 victory over Orlando at Amway Center. All but two of Bennett’s 16 points came in the fourth quarter, when he also managed to knock in two 3-point attempts – the first of his young career – and hit six straight field goals for the Cavaliers over a span of almost four minutes. … It was impressive enough that it nearly wiped out what had been a dominant performance from the 2013 No. 2 pick, Victor Oladipo. The Magic guard had 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting, and added eight rebounds and three assists. “He’s going to be great,” Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving said of Oladipo. “He’s going to be great in this league. … His potential is out of the roof.” “
  • Royce White is back on the court. Jason Wolf of USA Today has the story: “Former first-round draft pick Royce White made his Philadelphia 76ers debut in a 97-85 preseason victory against the Boston Celtics on Friday night at the University of Delaware. He didn’t play a minute for the Houston Rockets, who drafted him 16th overall in 2012, as a rookie because of a sometimes debilitating anxiety disorder and fear of flying. “It’s fantastic to see him on the floor,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “That was my thrill. … Just to let him get out and be with his teammates and play an NBA game is exciting for him and for us. We want to help him in any way we can. Like I said before, he’s a talent.” White (6-8, 260) finished with five points, three rebounds and five personal fouls in just less than 10 minutes on the court. The power forward picked up his first four fouls in less than three minutes in the first quarter, two while trying to set picks.”
  • JazzAl Jefferson has a sprained ankle, but it could have been a lot worse for the new Bobcats center. Michael Wallace of ESPN.com reports: “Jefferson fell awkwardly to the court with 5:41 left in the third quarter when he landed on the foot of Heat center Chris Bosh as the two fought for rebounding position in the lane. Jefferson remained on the court for several seconds until a timeout was called so he could be treated by team trainers. Teammates carried Jefferson to the locker room, where a Bobcats official confirmed the sprain after X-rays were negative. A dejected Jefferson had his right foot in a walking boot as he left the Sprint Center on crutches. “It’s sore as [expletive], real sore — that’s all I can tell you,” Jefferson told ESPN.com as he left the arena. “It feels like I’ve got a heartbeat in it. All that matters is that it’s negative. It ain’t nothing I’ve never been through before, so I’ve just got to get treatment and make sure I’m ready for the season.” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said significant swelling in Jefferson’s ankle made it difficult to determine the extent of the injury or how much time the nine-year veteran might miss. But Jefferson will be out at least Saturday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks.”
  • Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News looks at how the Mavs are dealing with Brandan Wright’s injury: “Nobody’s quite sure how long Brandan Wright’s recovery from a shoulder fracture will take, but coach Rick Carlisle is certain of one thing. The next man up will have to do the job. Namely, DeJuan Blair, along with Bernard James and Samuel Dalembert. “If it’s going to happen, this isn’t the worst time,” Carlisle said Friday. “He’s got a little time to heal. It’s going to be evaluated weekly. It could have been a lot worse. “(We’ll have to) plug other guys in. Now Blair becomes more at the forefront. Sarge has to be ready. Sam has to keep playing like he did the other night. And it gives guys like Balkman and Melo to get more minutes in the preseason.” Wright, the 6-10 center-forward who had bulked up in the off-season and was primed for significant playing time after breaking out with a nice second half of the 2012-13 season, suffered a non-displaced fracture of the left shoulder in practice Tuesday.”