Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Damian Lillard, Blazers continue to roll

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NBA Power Rankings: Damian Lillard, Blazers continue to roll

Apparently Damian Lillard isn't too happy about being snubbed for the All-Star Game a second consecutive year.

The Blazers' star point guard - and, yes, he is a star - came out of last week's break on a tear, dropping 51 points on Steph Curry and the defending champs. The Blazers won by 32, handing the Warriors their worst loss of the last two seasons.

Lillard's follow-up act? 30 points in a crucial victory over the Utah Jazz on Sunday.

The Blazers have now won 14 of 17 games and sit seventh in the Western Conference. Barring something wild he won't win the award, but Terry Stotts deserves some consideration for Coach of the Year.

As expected, the Blazers are on their way up in this week's power 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 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (49-5) Anderson Varejao signing with the Warriors could be a big boost for a team that doesn't really need anything but could use another big body inside while Festus Ezeli is sidelined.
(4) (40-14) A statement win in Oklahoma City for LeBron and co. With Kyrie Irving battling the flu, LeBron went for 25/7/11 while Kevin Love added 29 points and 11 boards. Cavs beginning to roll.
(3) (47-9) Blown out against the Clippers without Kawhi Leonard, but Spurs fans breathe a sigh of relief after Leonard's MRI on a sore calf comes back clean. They're still just three back of the Warriors.
4 (2) (40-16) The Thunder are 11th in defensive efficiency this season, but just 18th the last three weeks. Their juggernaut offense won't matter if they're giving up 100+ a night, which they've done in five of their last six.
5 (5) (36-18) A pair of ugly road losses as favorites to the Timberwolves and Bulls, but they rebounded nicely with a home win over the Grizzlies. They may not catch Cleveland, but they look like the East's second best squad.
6 (7) (36-19) It was fun to watch the Clips try and go big on the Warriors (DeAndre Jordan logged 37 minutes). And it sort of worked. Whether they can go that big when Blake Griffin returns, however, is another story.
7 (6) (33-24) The toughest team to figure out in the top 10, Boston appears to have all the pieces to contend in the East 
8 (10) (31-24) Hassan Whiteside is an absolute monster. After serving his suspension Friday in Miami's win over Atlanta, he went for 25 points and 23 rebounds in a 20-point win over Washington.
9 (12) (30-25) Hours after Kevin Durant proclaimed Paul George would one day be a Hall-of-Famer, George scored 22 points and handed out 10 assists in a road win over the Thunder. KD may be on to something.
10 (8) (32-23) They dealt Courtney Lee and Jeff Green in the wake of Marc Gasol's broken foot. They're still in the playoff race (currently No. 5) but that could change in the coming weeks. Dave Joerger has his work cut out for him.
11 (13) (29-27) Damian Lillard simply can't be stopped. Since his All-Star snub he's averaged 27.8 points and 8.1 assists in nine games. Oh, and the Blazers have won 14 of 17. Remarkable. He deserves MVP consideration.
12 (14) (29-26) Kemba Walker continued his All-Star-caliber season this past week, and he's averaged 26.2 points, 4.6 assists and 2.0 steals during the Hornets' five-game win streak. They're up to No. 7 in the East.
13 (11) (27-28) They follow up a seven-game win streak by losing three of four, though that one win was an important one over the Celtics. Their schedule gets very tough down the stretch, so they can't afford many slip-ups.
14 (9) (31-26) It's just impossible trying to figure this team out. What is clear is their struggles are very real after dropping three straight at home, including giving up 117 points to the Bucks on Sunday.
15 (18) (29-26) A big home win over the Raptors stopped the bleeding after losing 13 of 18 games. If they can just hang on until Jimmy Butler returns in a few weeks they should be OK for a playoff spot. But Detroit and Washington won't go away easy.
16 (15) (30-27) It's good to see David Lee latch on with the Mavs after he was cut by the Celtics. Whether he really gets a chance to play is another question, but he's a good locker room guy who should help Dallas' playoff push.
17 (19) (25-29) Picking up Markieff Morris could help them make a late push for the final playoff spot in the East, but they need to start winning at home; they're the only top 10 team in the East standings with a losing home record (13-16).
18 (20) (22-33) If you haven't gone and watched highlights of Anthony Davis' 59-point, 20-rebound game Sunday against the Pistons, go do so. In this writer's opinion, Brow is the game's best center.
19 (16) (28-28) Could be the most important week of the year for them, playing at Utah and Portland and then home against the Spurs. Houston, No. 8 in the West, is one game behind Portland and half-a-game up on Utah.
20 (17) (27-29) Ouch. Five straight losses, including three to sub-.500 teams, have them now 2.5 games behind the Bulls for the final playoff spot in the East. Tobias Harris needs to acclimate quick before it's too late.
21 (21) (23-31) It would have been interesting to see them go for it in trading for Pau Gasol, but the right move was to keep your young assets (McLemore, Casspi) and hold out hope that they retain their first round pick (top 10 protected).
22 (23) (23-33) There you go, Jabari Parker. The sophomore has averaged 22.7 points on 55 percent shooting and 11 rebounds in his last three games. Would be great to see him turn a corner in this, a lost season for the Bucks.
23 (22) (22-34) Safe to assume Blake Griffin was never really on the table in trade talks with the Nuggets. But that would have been something else to watch Denver build around Griffin.
24 (25) (24-30) Brandon Jennings has been great in Orlando thus far, totaling 30 points and 11 assists in two games with the Magic. And it's all sorts of awesome that he decided to wear No. 55, an homage to his double-nickel game.
25 (24) (17-39) It'd be nice to see Zach LaVine show some consistency off the ball in these final two months. He's scored in double figures in 11 straight games, averaging 17.6 points per game in that span.
26 (26) (24-33) Jimmer Fredette inked a 10-day contract with the Knicks, and while it won't mean much for their prospects this season, between Jimmer and Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks won't be lacking in excitement.
27 (27) (8-47) Trade rumors and porous defense aside, Jahlil Okafor's monster 31-point, eight-rebound effort was a reminder of just how dominant the 20-year-old can be and will be down the line.
28 (28) (15-41) Interesting decision not to deal one or both of Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez at the trade deadline. But with Sean Marks in as general manager, things are moving in the right direction (albeit very slowly).
29 (29) (11-46) Just read CSN's Kobe coverage on his final game Chicago. And why it was such a special night for his longtime friend and former teammate Pau Gasol.
30 (30) (14-42) Fourteen straight losses is almost unfathomable for a team picked by many to contend for a playoff spot this year. At least they did the right thing and dealt Markieff Morris at the trade deadline. It's a start.

Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury

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ESPN

Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury

The NBA may have lost another top superstar due to injury.

On Friday, Jimmy Butler appeared to have suffered a non-contact injury to his right knee. He left the game against the Houston Rockets unable to put any pressure on his right leg and needed assistance getting back to the locker room. 

Here's a video of the incident:

Coach Tom Thibodeau said that Butler will have an MRI when the team returns to Minnesota on Saturday.

Butler drew a lot of headlines last weekend after not playing in the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

Entering Friday, Butler led the league with 37.3 minutes played per game.

The Bulls also take on the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Saturday night.

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.