NBA Power Rankings: Clippers rolling along without Blake Griffin


NBA Power Rankings: Clippers rolling along without Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin's quad injury came at a difficult time for the Clippers, who had lost three of four and had just started a five-game road trip.

But Chris Paul rallied the troops and helped the Clippers to a 4-0 week and a league-best six-game win streak.

Paul shot just 32 percent from the field in those contests but handed out 11.0 assists per game. He's a big reason why Los Angeles moved up into the top five of this week's NBA power rankings.

Here's how this week shook out:

Previous power rankings: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (31-2) Loss No. 2 comes with Stephen Curry sidelined with a calf injury. In his absence, Draymond Green averaged 16.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 11.3 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.0 block in three games. Hello.
(2) (29-6)  Ho, hum. Another perfect week for Western Coach of the Month Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. Next up? Four straight against sub-.500 opponents.
(3) (24-10) They've won 13 of 15 and are an impressive 16-2 against the Western Conference. Kevin Durant's sprained big toe will be something to keep an eye on.
4 (5) (22-9) The Cavaliers have won nine of 11, including three easy ones last week. Kyrie Irving is still shaking off some rust, shooting just 34 percent since returning to the lineup.
5 (9) (22-13) The Clippers have won a league-best six games in a row, including five without the services of Blake Griffin. DeAndre Jordan in that span: 14.0 points, 81.0% FG 14.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks.
6 (4) (21-14) The Hawks are up to No. 6 in offensive efficiency, but allowing 111 points to the Knicks like they did on Sunday is a recipe for disaster.
7 (7) (20-13)  Ugly, ugly start to the week was finished with a 24-point win over Dallas and a 22-point win over Washington. Hassan Whiteside has 51 (!!) more blocks than anyone in the league.
8 (13) (20-12)  How good was Jimmy Butler's 40-point second half in Sunday's victory over the Raptors? Michael Jordan never did it. The Bulls have now won four straight.
9 (6) (21-14)  See above: Jimmy Butler's historic night included the Raptors watching a 14-point home lead in the second half disappear. Raptors are fine, but that was one they had wrapped up.
10 (10) (19-14) Paul George went 7-for-7 with 21 points in the fourth quarter of a crucial win over the Pistons to avoid a 1-3 week. Now they play four straight tough ones on the road.
11 (11) (19-15)  Chandler Parsons losing his minutes restriction is big. Expect him to play a major role in the Mavs' playoff push once he's back to 100 percent.
12 (8) (18-15)  Yuck. Home losses to both the Nets and Lakers was not the way to follow up a four-game win streak. Still, just two games back of Toronto in the Atlantic.
13 (12) (18-16) They look like world beaters one night and Lottery-bound the next. Consistency is a major issue for the Pistons, who have now lost four of five.
14 (14) (19-15)  The calendar has flipped to 2016 and the Orlando Magic have the 11th best record in the NBA. A 10-5 December record earned Scott Skiles East Coach of the Month honors.
15 (15) (15-17) Whatever the reason, Sunday's 22-point home loss to Miami was a stark reminder that John Wall can't do it all himself. They really need Bradley Beal back sooner than later.
16 (17) (17-16) The defense isn't good enough to win games, and right now the offense is struggling, failing to top 100 points in five of their last seven games. They've lost six of eight.
17 (18) (18-17) Zach Randolph's first five games off the bench: 8.6 points on 51% shooting and 6.2 rebounds. Randolph's last five games off the bench: 14.4 points on 54% shooting and 6.6 rebounds.
18 (16) (16-19)  The Rockets failed "finals week," losing to Atlanta, Golden State and San Antonio while allowing at least 114 points in each. Winning just one of those would have been a positive sign.
19 (22) (16-19)  Kristaps Porzingis was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, averaging 12.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. He's seventh in the NBA in rejections per game.
20 (19) (14-21)  Yes, he was expected to start slow after ACL surgery. But Jabari Parker is averaging 10.7 points on 9.3 FGA in 25.8 minutes. The Bucks need him to be more aggressive.
21 (21) (11-22)  Don't look now but the Pelicans have won five of 10 and are just four games out of the final playoff spot in the West. A win in Dallas was impressive last week.
22 (24) (15-17)  Utah has won three of four, and Rodney Hood has been a big reason why. The sophomore has averaged 17.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers in that span.
23 (23) (15-21) Another week, another C.J. McCollum praising. In six games without Damian Lillard, McCollum is averaging 26.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists. And Portland is 4-2.
24 (20) (13-20) Lose at home to the Sixers and you fall in the power rankings. Pretty simple. Still, Saturday's 142-point effort against the Suns was mighty impressive.
25 (27) (12-22)  Remember that exciting 8-8 start? They're 4-14 since, and the youth movement has begun in Minnesota; Kevin Martin has been a healthy scratch in six straight.
26 (28) (10-23) Brook Lopez earns East Player of the Week honors after a monster three-game stretch, averaging 26.7 points, 13.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks. He's an All-Star.
27 (25) (12-23)  It was great to see Kenneth Faried back in action on Sunday night after being taken off on a stretcher Friday night with a neck scare.
28 (29) (8-27)  Rookie Larry Nance has really impressed of late, averaging 11.6 points on 70% shooting and 10.4 rebounds in his last five games.
29 (26) (12-25)  Rock bottom is when your team scores 22 points in the first half against a team with the league's second worst record. Jeff Hornacek's days are numbered.
30 (30) (3-33) Signing Elton Brand makes no difference on the court, but he'll do wonders as a mentor for fellow bigs Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel.

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”