Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Evaluating teams at the All-Star break

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NBA Power Rankings: Evaluating teams at the All-Star break

It's been just four days since the last power rankings came out, so there wasn't much movement prior to the All-Star break (though the Bulls and Blazers did make significant movement in different directions).

So instead of analyzing what the teams did this week in their four days worth of games, we'll analyze their respective seasons as a whole and look ahead to the "second half" of the schedule.

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

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (48-4) They've already hinted at it, but fully expect them to gun for 73 wins in the season's second half. They need to go just 25-5 to get there. 
(2) (40-14) With a healthy Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook they're the Warriors' toughest matchup. And they'll likely meet in the West semifinals. Wild.
(3) (45-8) They're banged up right now, but Danny Green is putting things together after an atrocious first three months. He'll be key to a deep run in the West.
4 (4) (38-14) Kyrie Irving is heating up, and that's bad news for the East. In his last eight games he's averaged 26.9 points and 6.0 assists. 
5 (5) (35-17) It'll be interesting to see if they make a much-needed move for a power forward at the deadline. If they do, Cleveland's got a legitimate threat in the East.
6 (7) (32-23) Not sure they're the sixth best team in the NBA, but Brad Stevens has this group playing great defense. Will they make a move for Al Horford or Dwight Howard?
7 (6) (35-18) J.J. Redick has averaged 17.9 points on 49.6 percent from beyond the arc since Blake Griffin went out. A big reason the Clips are 18-5 without Griffin.
8 (8) (31-22) Marc Gasol's broken foot is a death sentence for a Grizzlies team playing its best basketball of the year. They'll compete, but hopes of a playoff run have been dashed.
9 (10) (31-24) The most intriguing seller to see at the trade deadline. They're competing in the East but could unload one or both of Jeff Teague and Al Horford.
10 (9) (29-24) They appear to be kicking the tires on dealing impending free agent Hassan Whiteside. If they don't, they'll be a tough out come playoff time.
11 (11) (26-26) They've got the inside track on a playoff berth now that they're healthy. They'll go as far as their stifling defense will take them, which could be far. Sleeper in the West.
12 (12) (28-25) There were plenty of great moments during All-Star Weekend. Paul George going for 41 points Sunday night was one of the best.
13 (17) (27-27) Let's see if Damian Lillard takes another All-Star snub and uses it as motivation in the second half. Wild that Portland is still in the playoff hunt this late into the season. 
14 (18) (27-26) They've recovered well after being left for dead a few weeks ago. They've won five of six, including wins over Cleveland and Indiana to gain some second half momentum. 
15 (16) (29-26) They're sort of in no-man's land, a pronounced tier behind the heavy hitters in the West but good enough so that they won't be in the lottery. Maybe they can steal a round in the playoffs.
16 (14) (27-28) They've got an important decision to make on potentially unloading Dwight Howard. Something's got to give on one of the league's most inconsistent teams. 
17 (13) (27-27) There's too much talent on this team for them not to make the playoffs (they're currently ninth). Getting KCP back to go with Drummond and Jackson should do it.
18 (15) (27-25) They've lost 13 of 18 and Jimmy Butler's on the shelf the next three weeks. It'll be interesting to see if Pau Gasol or Taj Gibson are moved this week. 
19 (19) (23-28) John Wall has a chance to average 20 points and 10 assists, which has only been done 22 times (by 10 players) since 1947. He's at 20.0/9.9 right now.
20 (21) (20-33)  Tyreke Evans is done for the year and essentially ends any hope of a late playoff push. This is just going to be a year to forget for the Pellies.
21 (20) (22-31) Six of their first eight games out of the break are against teams with winning records. Unless they catch fire they could be out of playoff contention by early March.
22 (22) (22-32) Denver was well represented this weekend with Emmanuel Mudiay (Rising Stars, Skills), Nikola Jokic (Rising Stars) and Will Barton (Dunk). Mike Malone's building something.
23 (25) (22-32) With the playoffs essentially out of reach, hopefully Jabari Parker will continue to show improvement. His post-ACL numbers have been just average.
24 (23) (17-37) Karl-Anthony Towns wins the skills competition and Zach LaVine goes back-to-back in the Dunk Contest. Good weekend for the young T-Wolves.
25 (26) (23-29) Aaron Gordon deserved to win Saturday's Dunk Contest. His second dunk in the finals will go down as arguably the best we've ever seen.
26 (24) (23-32) Godzingis was one of the many highlights from All-Star Weekend, scoring 30 points in the Rising Stars Challenge. He'll be fun in the second half.
27 (27) (8-45) Jahlil Okafor's having a fine rookie season, but his on/off splits are troubling. Philly is 11.6 points per 100 possessions better with Okafor OFF the floor.
28 (28) (14-40) Though the season's been over for awhile, it will be fun to watch rookies Chris McCollough and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (when he returns) progress. Solid pieces to build on. 
29 (30) (11-44) The weekend-long tribute to Kobe Bryant in Toronto was awesome. Good to see the Black Mamba play well in his final ASG (10 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds).
30 (29) (14-40) It's getting ugly in Phoenix. The Markieff Morris-Archie Goodwin scuffle was a new low. They're playing for lottery balls and not much else.

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.”