With All-Star Weekend in the books, it’s time to look at which NBA Finals contenders are in the driver’s seat for home-court advantage, which teams are still fighting for a playoff spot and which struggling clubs already have eyes on the draft.
Our panel (ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, Tim MacMahon and Andre’ Snellings, The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears and FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring) ranks all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are looking most like title contenders. For reference, we’ve included FiveThirtyEight’s NBA projections, while turning to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index for the latest draft lottery odds.
The NBA Finals contenders
1. Golden State Warriors
Record: 41-16 (1st in West)
The Nuggets’ staff might have coached in the All-Star Game, but the Warriors own the best record in the Western Conference. Keep an eye Golden State and Denver as they battle it out for the top seed in the conference: The Warriors and Nuggets split a pair of games in Denver, while Golden State hosts the final two contests that could decide home-court advantage throughout the West playoffs. — Spears
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 43-14 (1st in East)
With the best record in basketball, Milwaukee is sitting pretty and should be concerned merely about maximizing its playoff potential. The trade to secure floor-spacer Nikola Mirotic, who will make his Bucks’ debut after the break, was seemingly a wise move in that direction. — Herring
3. Toronto Raptors
Record: 43-16 (2nd in East)
The Raptors have been one of the league’s most consistent winners this season, even with the load management of Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry‘s missed games. Now they’re without Fred VanVleet, a vital member of their rotation, for a few weeks. The pressing question down the stretch for the Raps: Can this high-IQ group that has endured sporadic absences find the cohesiveness necessary to win an Eastern Conference title? — Arnovitz
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 37-20 (3rd in West)
The Thunder reached the All-Star break in third place out West, four games behind the Warriors. The Thunder have positioned themselves as a legitimate contender, built on the strength of a top-five defensive efficiency and two MVP-caliber team leaders, Russell Westbrook and Paul George. If defense and superstars win championships, a healthy Thunder squad is one that no one will want to face in the playoffs. –– Snellings
5. Denver Nuggets
Record: 39-18 (2nd in West)
The Nuggets reached the break with the second-best record out West, despite injuries that have seen them miss a combined 82 games from their starting five. Nikola Jokic has turned in an MVP-caliber campaign thus far, ranking third in the NBA with a Real Plus-Minus of 6.46 that has led the Nuggets to the fourth-best offensive efficiency in the league. — Snellings
6. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 37-21 (T-4th in East)
With the trades for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, the Sixers let it be known to the world that their aspiration this season is nothing less than the NBA Finals. If the first four games and 73 minutes their new starting lineup has played together is any indication, they have a strong case to be a favorite in the East. The Philly Phive has an eye-popping net rating of plus-24.6 points per 100 possessions. — Arnovitz
7. Boston Celtics
Record: 37-21 (T-4th in East)
The Celtics are currently tied for fourth in the East with the 76ers, a game behind the Pacers. They are likely too far behind to catch the first-place Bucks or second-place Raptors, so their most likely scenario has them challenging for the third seed. However, they are widely considered to have one of the most talented rosters and own the third-best scoring margin (plus-6.4) in the NBA. Perhaps the best news for the Celtics is the recent play of Gordon Hayward, who has averaged 21.0 points (63.3 shooting), 4.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds during the three games leading into the break and looks like he is approaching full strength for the first time this season. –– Snellings
8. Houston Rockets
Record: 33-24 (5th in West)
James Harden is working hard to make history. Can he keep that up and have enough gas left to go deep in the playoffs? Can 33-year-old Chris Paul stay healthy and find his superstar form again? Paul also has to figure out how to best fit with Harden being so ball-dominant. One good sign: Paul is plus-52 in the past four games despite not shooting well (39 assists, five turnovers). — MacMahon
Don’t forget about us
9. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 34-23 (4th in West)
The Blazers enter the post-All-Star break in a precarious position. Portland will have to be nearly perfect to catch up to Golden State, Denver or Oklahoma City in the top three West playoff spots. The Blazers currently own the fourth seed, which comes with home court in the first round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Portland has four teams breathing down their necks trying to take it away. — Spears
10. Indiana Pacers
Record: 38-20 (3rd in East)
Credit to Indiana, which has gone 13-9 without injured All-Star Victor Oladipo this season after posting an 0-7 mark in games without him in 2017-18. As a third-place team, the Pacers should still be a lock to make the playoffs in the East, even without their best player. But it’d be a huge accomplishment to somehow hold on to home-court advantage. — Herring
11. Utah Jazz
Record: 32-25 (6th in West)
Ricky Rubio maintained his professionalism — and sense of humor — as the Jazz dangled him in an attempt to upgrade with Mike Conley. Utah probably needs Rubio, a free agent this summer, at his best to advance past the first round for the third straight year. The Jazz also need Dante Exum to come back strong after a long absence due to a left ankle sprain. — MacMahon
12. San Antonio Spurs
Record: 33-26 (7th in West)
Can DeMar DeRozan get his groove back? His production and efficiency have slipped significantly since the calendar flipped to 2019, as he has dealt with fatigue and nagging injuries. The Spurs look like a good bet to extend their playoff streak to record-tying 22 years. The question is whether Spurs can do any damage once they get there. — MacMahon
13. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 28-29 (10th in West)
LeBron James returned more than two weeks ago, but the Lakers still find themselves slotted at No. 10 in the Western Conference playoff race. Missing the postseason would be embarrassing for the Lakers, even with the tempered expectations set at the start of the season. Qualifying won’t be easy, as the upstart Kings have shown no signs of tailing off, and the resilient and transitional Clippers still able to play .500 ball or better, irrespective of who’s on the roster. — Arnovitz
14. LA Clippers
Record: 32-27 (8th in West)
The Clippers won’t say it aloud, but most within the front office wouldn’t mind being edged out at the finish line for a playoff spot, thus allowing them to retain their first-round draft pick this June. In the meantime, the top priority is the continuing development of rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Clips would love to be able to enter free-agency pitches not only with cap space, but evidence that Gilgeous-Alexander is a point guard with the skills to lead an elite, contending team. –– Arnovitz
15. Sacramento Kings
Record: 30-27 (9th in West)
Do the Kings finally have enough to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006? Adding quality veteran forward Harrison Barnes as a starter and veteran guard Alec Burks off the bench sure showed the club is going for it this season. De’Aaron Fox has been outstanding in his second year at point guard, and perhaps it’s time for the Kings to take the training wheels off talented forward Marvin Bagley III and let him start. — Spears
Chasing the playoffs
16. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 30-29 (6th in East)
It’s ironic that in a season the Nets finally own their first-round draft pick, they’re playing their way into the postseason — but Brooklyn will gladly take a pick in the teens in exchange for the playoff berth. Even with the Nets’ recent slide, no team works harder, gets more out of its personnel and is better coached than Brooklyn. The gritty supporting cast has been a revelation, but the Nets’ postseason hopes will rest in large part on the play of D’Angelo Russell, who has led the team in scoring in each of the past nine games. — Arnovitz
17. Detroit Pistons
Record: 26-30 (T-8th in East)
Detroit won five of its last seven games before the break and enters the second half of the season in a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Pistons retooled their roster some, hoping to find a bit more support for Blake Griffin, who has been great, but at times looked overburdened on offense because of the team’s lack of ball handlers. At this point, with just one playoff appearance in the previous nine seasons, Detroit will take some mid-April basketball anyway it can get it. — Herring
18. Charlotte Hornets
Record: 27-30 (7th in East)
The Hornets were gracious hosts for All-Star Weekend, but their fans are more worried about getting back to the postseason. Charlotte, however, made no significant move at the trade deadline to help its cause. The Hornets have tough competition for the final two playoff spots with Detroit, Miami and Orlando. — Spears
19. Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 27-30 (11th in West)
The Timberwolves desperately need to pick up some wins if they hope to make the postseason for the second year in a row. Minnesota is currently four games out of the playoff race behind the Clippers. Success would certainly help the cause for interim head coach Ryan Saunders in his hopes to be permanent. Consistent elite play from forward Andrew Wiggins to complement All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns would help, too. — Spears
20. Orlando Magic
Record: 27-32 (10th in East)
The Magic are having a season that exceeds expectations across the board. The team was expected to be in full rebuild mode, but instead the strong play of first-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic has them entering the break a half game out of the playoffs and on a five-game winning streak. In addition, the deadline deal to bring in 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz gives the Magic three top-five draft picks from the past two drafts (along with Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac) to develop as a potential future core. — Snellings
21. Miami Heat
Record: 26-30 (T-8th in East)
The Heat limped into the All-Star break, having lost six of their past eight games to fall into a tie for the last playoff spot. They remain one of four teams within a game of each other for seeds 7 through 10, though, and have a veteran-laden team that would like to send legend Dwyane Wade into retirement with a playoff berth. — Snellings
22. Washington Wizards
Record: 24-34 (11th in East)
With the franchise clearly being built around Bradley Beal at this point, the next two months should be about establishing which teammates fit best alongside him for the coming years, and doing everything you can to keep Beal healthy for next season. Washington sits three games out of the No. 8 seed, so a late-season charge isn’t out of the question, either. — Herring
So, when’s the lottery?
23. Dallas Mavericks
Record: 26-31 (12th in West)
Rookie sensation Luka Doncic will be pushed to his limits, as he has as much responsibility on his shoulders the rest of the season as anyone but a couple recent MVPs. Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Jalen Brunson get extended auditions to prove they’re good fits as role players who complement the kid. — MacMahon
24. New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 26-33 (13th in West)
The rest of the season is about managing the Anthony Davis dumpster fire and figuring out who will be the Pelicans’ point man in trade discussions this summer. As coach Alvin Gentry does his best to keep the Pelicans focused amid all the distractions, the league office might need to reconsider whether the franchise has the right to act in its own best interest by putting Davis on the shelf for the rest of the season. — MacMahon
25. Atlanta Hawks
Record: 19-39 (12th in East)
There are some who would argue that the Hawks are doing themselves a disservice by winning games and decreasing their odds in the Zion Williamson sweepstakes. But Atlanta will happily take the incremental progress of its young core — Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter most notably — and the cultural foundation being laid down by head coach Lloyd Pierce. It’s an inexperienced group that may still lose a ton of games down the stretch, but the Hawks seem to have recused themselves from the 2019 Tankathon. — Arnovitz
26. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 23-36 (14th in West)
Hey, hey, let’s convey! Not quite an inspiring rally cry, but the Grizzlies’ primary goal is to get rid of the top-eight protected pick they owe the Celtics now, not when it’s top-six protected next year or unprotected in 2021. Mike Conley will surely get shopped again this summer, but he’s helping mentor Jaren Jackson Jr. to be Memphis’ future face of the franchise. — MacMahon
27. Chicago Bulls
Record: 14-44 (14th in East)
The chief curiosity for Chicago heading into the second half should be seeing how Otto Porter Jr. continues to fit alongside Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. The early results have been more than encouraging: In their 110 minutes as a trio, Chicago has outscored opponents by 14 points per 100 possessions. Seeing what that group does once Wendell Carter Jr. returns should be somewhat instructive for next year. — Herring
28. Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 12-46 (14th in East)
Cleveland has a handful of things to monitor once it resumes play. Can Cedi Osman, who has averaged 20 points per game over the past month or so, become a consistent second scorer going forward? Can Kevin Love, now healthy again, restore his value as a franchise-caliber player? (If not as a legitimate centerpiece, then as trade asset.) But the most important question will come in mid-May, when the Cavs have a chance to win the lottery. — Herring
29. Phoenix Suns
Record: 11-48 (Last in West)
As bad as things seem to be for the Suns, the good news is there finally seems to be some stability. There is no potential change in head coach, general manager or even arena on the horizon and they finally have a point guard, Tyler Johnson. Don’t be surprised if the Suns play the role of spoiler the rest of the regular season. Foes will take the Suns lightly, but with young stars Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton and other budding talent, they can be competitive. — Spears
30. New York Knicks
Record: 11-47 (Last in East)
The Knicks had parlayed an impressive 18-game losing streak into the worst record in the NBA before winning the last pre-break game to move a half-game ahead of the Suns. However, under the new draft lottery rules, the teams with the three worst records share the same chance at the No. 1 overall pick. The Knicks are three full games behind the Bulls for the fourth-worst record in the league, so they have some wiggle room while continuing their season-long youth movement without fear of lowering their lottery odds. — Snellings
Reports: Bears to cut K Parkey in March
After a difficult season culminated by a crucial missed field goal on a potential game-winning field goal in the NFC playoffs, kicker Cody Parkey will be released by the Chicago Bears when the new league year begins in March.
FILE PHOTO: Sep 17, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey (1) watches his field goal during the first half against the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
According to multiple reports on Friday, the team intends to cut ties with Parkey once the NFL free agency period begins on March 13.
Parkey, who turned 27 on Tuesday, endured an inconsistent season in Chicago after inking a four-year, $15 million contract last winter following the team’s release of Robbie Gould, the Bears’ all-time leading scorer who moved on to the San Francisco 49ers.
Parkey, a five-year veteran, not only missed a career-high seven field-goal attempts and three extra points during the regular season, but his 43-yard attempt in the final seconds of the NFC wild-card round against the Philadelphia Eagles first hit the upright then the crossbar before bouncing back on the field.
Despite the NFL later ruling that the kick was partially blocked, Parkey took much of the public blame for the Bears’ season ending.
Parkey began his career with the Eagles in 2014 when he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, scoring a franchise-record 150 points while making 32 of 36 field-goal tries. In two seasons with the Eagles, Parkey never missed an extra point.
Parkey later kicked for the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and Miami Dolphins in 2017.
In January, the Bears signed Tulsa product Redford Jones after conducting a workout that reportedly included multiple hopefuls. Jones made 50 of his 67 field-goal attempts at Tulsa from 2015-17, and he does have a kick on his resume where he hit both uprights. Unlike Parkey’s double-doink, though, that 2016 attempt against Cincinnati ended up going over the crossbar for three points.
“We need more production out of that position,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said last month after signing Jones. “We know we need to get better there, and it will be an area of focus.”
—Field Level Media
WTA roundup: Bencic upsets Svitolina to reach Dubai final
Belinda Bencic secured a spot in the final by stunning two-time champion Elina Svitolina 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) on Friday at the Dubai Duty Free Championships in the United Arab Emirates.
Tennis – WTA Premier 5 – Dubai Tennis Championships – Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates – February 22, 2019 Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic in action during the Semi Final against Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina REUTERS/Satish Kumar
Bencic trailed 5-3 in the final set before recovering to defeat the sixth-seeded Svitolina. She will face second-seeded Petra Kvitova in the championship match after the Czech Republic star defeated Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
“I think I’m always the most proud of how I fight,” Bencic said after posting the victory. “Even when I lose, I learned myself to just look in the mirror and be proud of myself when I’m fighting, when I’m giving my all, when I’m trying to do what I have to do.”
Bencic won eight consecutive points after Svitolina was in position to close out the match. Then the Switzerland native carried the momentum into the tiebreaker to notch one of the biggest victories of her career by outdueling the Ukrainian.
“Basically, I stayed in the zone, even in (the) tiebreak,” Bencic said. “I was barely breathing, just playing automatic. You are not thinking any more. It’s where the instincts just guide you through it.”
Bencic will be seeking her third career title when she squares off with Kvitova, who will be shooting for her 27th.
Kvitova dropped the first set on Friday before recovering to win the last two.
“It was a tough one today, for sure,” Kvitova said. “She really didn’t give me anything for free. It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. I didn’t play great at the end of the first.
“I think I’m pleased with my kind of mental focus after losing the first set, that I was calmer when I came back and played from the beginning of the second set. I still kind of felt that I can do that somehow. I don’t know. It was something weird.”
Kvitova overcame eight double faults to claim the victory.
Hungarian Ladies Open
Top-seeded Alison Van Uytvanck defeated Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 to advance to the semifinals in Budapest.
Van Uytvanck, of Belgium, will face fifth-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova in the semis. The Russian dispatched third-seeded Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier 6-3, 6-2.
Eighth-seeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic will face Russian Anastasia Potapova in the other semi. Vondrousova outlasted Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 while the 17-year-old Potapova fought past Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in 2 hours, 50 minutes.
—Field Level Media
Patriots owner Robert Kraft facing charges of solicitation of prostitution
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is facing charges of misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution after he was twice videotaped paying for a sex act at an illicit massage parlor, police in Florida said Friday.
The 77-year-old Kraft was one of 25 people involved in the alleged solicitation at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter.
Michael Edmondson, spokesman for the state attorney’s office in Palm Beach County, told ESPN that the nature of any charges that the 25 people face will not be released until next week.
Kraft has denied wrongdoing.
The potential charges come amid a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking in Florida from Palm Beach to Orlando. Hundreds of arrest warrants have been issued in recent days as result of a six-month investigation, and more are expected. Ten spas have been closed, and several people charged with sex trafficking have been taken into custody.
Police said they secretly planted undercover cameras in targeted massage parlors and recorded the interactions between men and the female employees.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Kraft said they “categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”
The NFL said it is “aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.”
The individuals named as having solicited prostitutes could be facing either a first- or second-degree misdemeanor for each count. A second-degree charge carries up to a 60-day jail sentence and a $500 fine; a first-degree charge carries up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Most people charged for the first time with soliciting a prostitute in Florida are allowed to enter a diversion program, said attorney David Weinstein, a former prosecutor. Kraft would have to perform 100 hours of community service and pay to attend an educational program about the negative effects of prostitution and human trafficking.
Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr said he was shocked to learn Kraft, who is worth $6 billion, was allegedly paying for sex inside a strip-mall massage parlor.
“We are as equally stunned as everyone else,” Kerr said.
Kraft lives in Massachusetts and has a home in the Palm Beach area. He is a frequent guest of President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Club. Though a Democrat, Kraft is friendly with Trump.
“Well it’s very sad. I was very surprised to see it,” Trump said at the White House on Friday. “He’s proclaimed his innocence, totally. But I’m very surprised to see it.”
Kraft’s wife, Myra Hiatt Kraft, died in 2011. He has been dating 39-year-old actress Ricki Noel Lander since 2012.
Team owners are subject to the NFL’s personal conduct policy, and owners and league employees are held to an even higher standard than players.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended for six games in 2014 after he was arrested on drug charges. He was also fined $500,000.
Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey, whose agency has been involved in the investigation, told reporters earlier this week that the prostitutes are victims who have been trapped into the trade.
“These girls are there all day long, into the evening. They can’t leave, and they are performing sex acts,” Currey said, according to TCPalm. “Some of them may tell us they’re OK, but they’re not.”
Kraft, who made his initial fortune through a packaging company, was a Patriots season-ticket holder when he purchased the team’s previous stadium in 1988, then used his leverage to buy the team for $172 million in 1994 to keep it from moving to St. Louis.
He hired Bill Belichick to be his coach in 2000, and the team subsequently drafted quarterback Tom Brady, launching nearly two decades of success.
Under Kraft, who also owns Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, the Patriots have been the most successful team in pro sports, having made it to 10 Super Bowls, winning six, including this year against the Los Angeles Rams.
But there also have been issues involving team actions under Belichick.
In 2007, the Patriots were caught filming signals from New York Jets coaches; New England was suspected of doing so against other teams as well, and that was confirmed later on. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fined the Patriots $250,000 and stripped them of their 2008 first-round draft pick. Belichick was fined $500,000, the most an NFL coach ever was fined.
In the 2014 AFC Championship Game, the team — specifically Brady — was accused by the Colts of doctoring footballs.
The NFL concluded that Patriots employees were involved in deflating the footballs and Brady was “at least generally aware” it was being done. After lengthy legal battles, Brady served a four-game suspension at the beginning of the 2016 season and the Patriots were fined $1 million — the heftiest for a team in league history. New England was stripped of a first-round and a fourth-round draft choice.
Neither Kraft nor Belichick was implicated after the investigation.
Longtime Patriots captain Devin McCourty told NBC Boston, which is with him on a goodwill trip to Puerto Rico, of the Kraft news: “When you see things come out like that you really have to just let it play out. See what it is, what it isn’t, and go from there.”
Information from ESPN’s Paula Lavigne, Mike Reiss and The Associated Press was used in this report.
Record floods inundate U.S. Midwestern states as Pence arrives
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- Record floods inundate U.S. Midwestern states as Pence arrives
- Bill Maher: Critics of Beto O’Rourke’s silent wife in video should ‘shut the f— up’
- Ocasio-Cortez blasts ‘injustice’ that prestigious New York City high school admitted few black students
- Democrats’ calls to revamp Electoral College, Supreme Court reveal panic: Lara Trump
- Fox News’ primetime outdraws MSNBC, CNN despite highly publicized town halls
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