Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Hawks starting to put it together

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NBA Power Rankings: Hawks starting to put it together

Exactly two weeks ago the Atlanta Hawks sat at 14-12, having just lost their third straight game by 10+ points.

It was difficult to peg where Mike Budenholzer's group stood in the East, considering they had wins over Miami, Boston, Oklahoma City and Dallas but had also lost to Minnesota (twice) and Brooklyn.

They also had failed tests against the Cavaliers (12-point loss), Raptors (10-point loss) and Heat (12-point loss), leaving them in the middle of the pack in a crowded Eastern Conference.

But since then, the Hawks have righted the ship. They've won a league-best six straight games, scoring 100 or more points in each, and have moved within a single game of the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

In that span they've had the league's most efficient offense (112.0) and seventh most efficient defense (99.4), and have topped Boston (on the road), Orlando (on the road) and Detroit at home to get back on track.

And it hasn't been one player doing the damage. Paul Millsap is leading the team during this stretch with 17.7 points, but Al Horford (15.3), Jeff Teague (15.2), Dennis Schroder (14.0) and Mike Scott (10.7) are all close behind. Each of those players are shooting at least 48 percent from the field in the last six and all but Scott are averaging at least three assists per game.

They won't top 60 wins like they did a year ago, but when the Hawks have the ball moving they're a lethal offense.

On to the rankings:

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

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (28-1) They need to finish the season 45-8 to break the all-time single-season record for wins. The mountain doesn't seem that steep anymore for Steph and Co.
(2) (26-6) If not for the other-worldly Warriors, we'd be talking much more about the Spurs, who moved to 17-0 at home and now have won 26 straight in San Antonio.
(4) (21-10) They laid a Christmas Day egg against the Bulls, but their 22-0 run to start the third quarter against the Lakers was a sight to behold. When they're on, they're ON.
4 (8) (20-12) Owners of the league's current longest win streak, the Hawks have climbed back to within a single game of the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
5 (3) (19-9) Two losses on the opposite ends of the spectrum: a six-point loss at Golden State in which they had a chance at the end, followed by a 29-point loss in Portland in which they trailed by 22 after a quarter.
6 (7) (19-12) They go 11-6 without Jonas Valanciunas, who will return Monday. Bismack Biyombo was huge in his absence, averaging 6.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in that span for the Raptors.
7 (5) (18-11) After dropping a winnable home game to the Pistons they respond with wins against the Pelicans and Magic (on the road) on back-to-back nights. Just a perfectly rounded team.
8 (12) (18-13) That's how you respond. After losing four of five they win four straight, including big road victories over the Hornets and Pistons. They could run the streak to seven with the Lakers and Nets (twice) up next.
9 (9) (18-13) They passed their first test without Blake Griffin by slipping past the struggling Jazz. Bigger tests await. Chris Paul will be needed in an even bigger role.
10 (6) (17-12) Paul George is shooting under 37 percent in 13 December games after earning the East's Player of the Month honors in November. They're getting nothing from their backcourt, too.
11 (13) (17-13) Left for dead when DeAndre Jordan flip-flopped to the Clippers, the Mavericks are now fifth in the West. JJ Barea has filled in superbly with Deron Williams battling a hamstring injury.
12 (10) (17-14) They had three tests this week and went 1-2, beating the Heat on the road before dropping contests in Atlanta and against Boston. Still plenty to like about Andre Drummond and Co.
13 (11) (16-12) It's a fairly safe bet that the Bulls will be the only team in the NBA to lose to the Nets at home and beat the Thunder on the road. Let alone doing so in a four-day span.
14 (14) (17-13) Nikola Vucevic is making quite the All-Star case in Orlando. The big man is averaging 16.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.0 blocks for the Magic, ranked No. 8 in the East.
15 (19) (14-14) John Wall's continued efforts have the Wizards back to .500 for the first time since Nov. 25. Their January schedule is a nightmare, so let's see if they can keep that .500 pace.
16 (18) (16-16) It wasn't pretty, but a victory over the Spurs is noteworthy regardless of how it happens. It's still tough to pinpoint this Rockets team, however, which lost to New Orleans two days later.
17 (15) (16-13) They had lost five of six before rallying to beat the Grizzlies to end the week. Kemba Walker is quietly shooting a career-best 43.5% from the field through 29 games. Not great, but still a career-best.
18 (17) (17-16) They were close to road wins in Washington and Charlotte but couldn't eke out either. Tuesday's game against the Heat will be a battle of two of the league's best defenses.
19 (20) (12-19) Yes, it's true. The Milwaukee Bucks, owners of the No. 5 seed in the East last season, have the conference's third worst record. They're 2-4 since beating the Warriors. So much for momentum.
20 (24) (12-17) The most impressive week of the non-contenders, with victories at Toronto and Indiana. Rajon Rondo compiled 32 points and 29 assists in those two games. Yeah.
21 (22) (10-20) Winners in four of their last six and they're now only three games out of the No. 8 seed in the West. Still plenty of of work to be done, but the arrow it pointing up.
22 (16) (14-18) Since Nov. 15 they've gone W4, L4, W2, L4, W4, L4. Their next six opponents (DET, CHI, ATL, ATL, MIA, SAS) mean a win streak isn't likely to follow their latest slide.
23 (25) (13-20) C.J. McCollum has put the Blazers on his back (doe) with Damian Lillard out. He went for 35 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in a road win over Sacramento on Sunday night.
24 (23) (12-16) Things go from bad to worse now that Alec Burks will miss six weeks with a broken leg. So much for being this year's breakout team in the West. They need Rudy Gobert back in a hurry.
25 (23) (12-19) They've now lost five of their last six after winning five of six, and Emmanuel Mudiay's lingering ankle issue isn't a sign of better things to come in the short-term future.
26 (21) (12-20) When you hand the Sixers their first road victory in their last 23 tries, and your star point guard is out indefinitely with a knee injury, you drop this far in the rankings.
27 (26) (11-19) They really look better than their record indicates, and double-digit losses to the Celtics, Spurs and Pacers were to be expected. Karl-Anthony Towns may have ROY wrapped up by the All-Star break.
28 (28) (8-22) It's that time of the year when we begin pondering what type of value for the future players like Thaddeus Young or Brook Lopez could bring in a trade. The Nets have lost six straight at home.
29 (29) (5-26) The Lakers now own the league's worst defensive efficiency and second worst offensive efficiency. Byron Scott's days in L.A. are numbered.
30 (30) (2-30) Ish Smith arrives with the Sixers and they earn their second victory of the season. He's no savior, but he gives stability at the point guard position for a team needing plenty of it.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”