Are Rockets, Raptors the 1s? Time will tell when NBA resumes
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By BRIAN MAHONEY
Golden State and Cleveland are used to looking down at the rest of the NBA, though it's Houston and Toronto enjoying that view at the All-Star break.
The Rockets and Raptors are the conference leaders and will try to keep rolling when play resumes. Houston has won 10 straight to edge past the Warriors, and Toronto is two games up in the East after seven consecutive wins.
So, are the Raptors the best team in the East?
"I don't know. The record says we are, but for me to sit here and say we are the best team - we have confidence, but I'm not going to sit here and say we are the best team," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. "Right now, we're No. 1. The numbers say that."
Houston coach Mike D'Antoni says the Rockets like being in the Warriors' spot, but don't talk about them - for now.
"Nobody's ready for that yet," he said. "So as we go forward we'll see what we got, but yeah, we would love to be the No. 1 team without a doubt."
While Commissioner Adam Silver discussed the idea of revamping the playoff format during his All-Star Saturday press conference , the reality is that the NBA isn't near any kind of change.
A glance at the current standings explains why.
While having the best 16 teams in the league in the playoffs would be nice, Silver worries about the extra travel that could be created if teams were playing someone outside their conference. And if they were seeded 1 to 16 based on their records at the All-Star break, No. 4 Boston and No. 13 Portland would have to play a coast-to-coast series in the first round.
"We are just concerned about the overall travel that we would have in the top 16 teams," Silver said.
No. 5 Cleveland against No. 12 Denver also would create some difficult travel, though Minnesota against Milwaukee in a 7-10 series would be quite convenient.
The other current first-round pairings, if the 1-16 format was in play:
No. 1 Houston vs. No. 16 Los Angeles Clippers.
No. 2 Golden State vs. No. 15 New Orleans.
No. 3 Toronto vs. No. 14 Philadelphia.
No. 6 San Antonio vs. No. 11 Oklahoma City.
No. 8 Washington vs. No. 9 Indiana.
Silver also mentioned the idea of keeping the playoff field as the top eight in each conference, but seeding them 1 to 16. In that scenario, Miami would replace the Clippers as the current No. 16 team.
The NBA isn't the only basketball that returns this week.
The second window of qualifying for the 2019 Basketball World Cup will be held from Thursday through Monday. Teams in the Americas, Europe, Asian and Africa will each play two games over the weekend.
The U.S. plays both its games at Santa Cruz, California, home of the Golden State Warriors' NBA G League affiliate. The Americans will host Cuba on Friday and Puerto Rico on Monday.
FIBA's new qualifying format began with countries playing their first two games in November. The Americans, using G League players under coach Jeff Van Gundy because NBA ones aren't available during the season, are 2-0 after victories over Puerto Rico and Mexico.
The next window runs from the end of June into early July.
A look at who's hot, and who's not, coming out of the All-Star break:
Utah - 11 straight victories.
Houston - 10 straight victories.
Toronto - 7 straight victories.
Philadelphia - 5 straight victories.
Cleveland - 4 straight victories.
New York - 8 straight losses.
Brooklyn, Memphis, Phoenix - 7 straight losses.
COMING UP THIS WEEK
Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State, Thursday. The Warriors (44-14) are one loss from tying their high for any season under Steve Kerr. They were 67-15 in 2014-15 and 2016-17.
Minnesota at Houston, Friday. The Rockets snapped the Timberwolves' 13-game home winning streak on Feb. 13. Now Minnesota can end Houston's overall 10-game win streak.
Dallas at Los Angeles Lakers, Friday. Dirk Nowitzki (22) and the Mavericks both had their highest-scoring performances of the season in a 130-123 victory over the Lakers on Feb. 10.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK
LeBron James: 29 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists in Team LeBron's 148-145 victory over Team Stephen in the All-Star Game. James scored at least 25 for the eighth time in the All-Star Game, three more than Kobe Bryant and Bob Pettit for the most ever, according to NBA.com/stats, and was just shy of what would have been his second All-Star Game triple-double. Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade are the only other players with one.
More AP basketball: www.apnews.com/tags/NBAbasketball
Updated February 21, 2018