Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Cousins, Kings heading north in the West

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NBA Power Rankings: Cousins, Kings heading north in the West

For all the turmoil the Sacramento Kings have been through in the last 16 months, it's incredible they find themselves in this position.

Questions about arena funding, firing Mike Malone, contemplating trading DeMarcus Cousins, swinging and missing on every free agent, head coach George Karl feuding with Cousins via emojis on Twitter...the Kings were a mess.

And yet, here they are in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference after winning five straight games.

Free agent acquisition Rajon Rondo has been a godsend for Karl's squad, averaging 11.7 points and an NBA-best 11.6 assists per game. Cousins has taken his game to the next level and should earn his second consecutive All-Star berth. Rudy Gay continues to be a model of consistency while guys like Omri Casspi, Marco Belinelli and Ben McLemore have played a stellar supporting cast.

They peaked this week with three straight wins (five straight overall), knocking off the Lakers on the road before impressive home wins over Atlanta and Indiana.

Rondo and Cousins led the charge. Rondo averaged 11.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 12.7 assists in the three wins, while Cousins exploded for 48 points against the Pacers, averaging 36.0 points per game this week.

They're rolling right now, and if they decide to be buyers at the trade deadline (Ryan Anderson?) we could see the Kings, miraculously, in the postseason.

On to the rankings:

Previous power rankings: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (2) (40-4) Back to the top spot they go. After losing two of three, they beat the Bulls and Cavs by a combined 65 points....both on the road. Then they stomp the Pacers.
(1) (38-6) The win streak now reaches an NBA-best 13 games, but they'll get their biggest test of the year when they travel to Oracle Arena tonight. Likely Western Conference Finals preview.
(3) (33-13)

A perplexing loss to the Nets on Sunday night doesn't change the fact that they had won seven straight and look like contenders. The West may be a three-team race after all.

4 (6) (29-15) The hottest team in the East has won eight straight, the last of which came in dominating fashion over the Clippers. DeMar DeRozan should make his second All-Star team.
5 (4) (30-12) Has a team 18 games over .500 with an All-Star starter that won their conference the previous year ever had more drama than this Cavs team? Tyronn Lue has his work cut out.
6 (5) (28-16) Not having Blake Griffin around is starting to show, as they suffered big losses to the top two teams in the East, Cleveland and Toronto, this week.
7 (9) (25-20) The road loss to Minnesota notwithstanding, they're up to No. 5 in the West with a very favorable schedule upcoming in February.
8 (7) (26-19) Consistency a real issue, as they've gone L2, W2, L2, W3, L2 in their last 11 games. Jeff Teague has struggled mightily and was benched for Dennis Schroder in Thursday's loss to the Kings.
9 (12) (25-18) Don't hurt yourself trying to figure out this Bulls team. Losers in six of eight, they go wire-to-wire in Cleveland to beat the Cavaliers. They're 2-0 against LeBron and 1-2 against Charlotte.
10 (8) (23-21) Still plenty to like about this improving Pistons team, but losing three of four after shellacking the Warriors isn't exactly how momentum works in this league.
11 (10) (24-22) They trailed by eight Sunday against the Mavericks but used a huge second half to top the Mavericks. Trevor Ariza and James Harden combined for 52 points.
12 (14) (25-21) Their last five losses are against Cleveland, OKC, San Antonio, OKC and Houston. Nothing wrong with those L's, but at some point you want to prove you can beat the top contenders.
13 (13) (24-21) It'll be a shame if Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas is left off the East All-Star squad. Meanwhile, Boston has now won five of seven since a four-game skid earlier this month.
14 (16) (20-21)  A tough upcoming slate includes five of the next six against winning-record teams. If they can get through that stretch 3-3 or better they'd take some real momentum into the second half of the season.
15 (11) (23-21) They've now inexplicably lost eight of 10, and during their current four-game slide have averaged 80.3 points. And they're banged up heading to Chicago, where they desperately could use a win.
16 (19) (20-23) DeMarcus Cousins' 48-point outing against Indiana was the highlight of a perfect week for the Kings, who now sit in the No. 8 seed in the West. Rajon Rondo has been a perfect fit, too.
17 (15) (23-21) Though the Pacers are struggling, it's worth noting here that Paul George being named an All-Star starter is great to see after his devastating leg injury two years ago. 
18 (23) (20-26) They may not sneak into the playoffs this year, but Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are a hell of a backcourt tandem for the future. They combined for 66 in a win over the Lakers on Saturday.
19 (17) (22-24) Getting back to .500 with a win over the Jazz was nice; a 28-point home loss to Los Angeles and a 13-point loss in Charlotte to follow it up was not.
20 (24) (16-27) There's the MVP-like Anthony Davis. He won't win it this year, but his averages of 26.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in his last six are the numbers we expected all year. The Pellies have won five of those six.
21 (25) (21-23) What a week for Kemba Walker, who goes for a career-high 52 points on Monday and averages 34.8 points in his four games. Even better, the Hornets went 3-1 in those contests to break their disastrous January skid.
22 (22) (17-27) Their last 13 games have been decided by seven points or less. They're just 5-8 in those games, but they continue to improve under Mike Malone. Will Barton for Sixth Man of the Year?
23 (18) (19-24) They've lost four of five and have been supplanted by Sacramento for the last playoff spot in the West. They desperately need to get back Derrick Favors, who now has missed 16 straight games with back spasms.
24 (21) (19-27) They certainly look better than they did a month ago, but they're still 13th in the East and five games out of the last playoff spot. Will take quite a bit for them to get back in the playoff hunt.
25 (20) (20-22) They've now lost nine of 10, and 12 of their next 14 games come against teams currently with .500 or better win percentages. This thing could get ugly in a hurry.
26 (27) (14-31) It's a shame the Timberwolves haven't been better this season or we'd be talking more about Karl-Anthony Towns, who's averaging 15.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. KAT is ROY.
27 (29) (6-39)  They're 5-9 since Dec. 27. Those five wins are more than the Suns, Bets, Magic, Timberwolves or Lakers have had in that span. Baby steps trying to get out of the NBA's cellar.
28 (26) (12-32) The Nets would be wise to go snag one of Tom Thibodeau or David Blatt for their head coaching vacancy. The personnel may take awhile to turn over, but either would be great at the helm.
29 (30) (14-31) Archie Goodwin's buzzer-beating 3-pointer to top the Hawks stopped a six-game losing streak. Another Kentucky alum, rookie Devin Booker, continues to improve in extended minutes.
30 (28) (6-38) Since that three-game-ray-of-hope win streak the Lakers have lost 10 of 11, including six straight. At least we got to celebrate the anniversary of Kobe's 81-point performance last week.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.