Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: James Harden, Rockets get back on track

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NBA Power Rankings: James Harden, Rockets get back on track

Week 2 of the NBA season is in the books, and we know this will come a surprise but the Golden State Warriors are the league's only undefeated team.

The bigger surprise was the team without a win in last week's rankings, the Houston Rockets. James Harden's group became the first team in NBA history to lose their first three games by 20+ points, signaling perhaps a serious chink in the title contender's armor. But that's why teams play more than three games in a season. Houston rebounded in a big way this week, and it has them back in the top five of this week's power rankings. See where the other 29 teams rank heading into the season's third week.

Previous power rankings: Preseason | Week 1

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (7-0) The NBA's last remaining unbeaten has a point differential of +18.3 points per game. Next best? Cleveland and San Antonio at +9.3.
(4) (6-1) Winners in six straight, LeBron and the Cavs are rolling...with Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert on the sidelines.
(5) (4-2)  Kawhi Leonard (21.8 points, 8.3 rebounds) has taken the reins of and run with the lead dog role in San Antonio.
4 (11) (7-1)  Seven straight wins, with their only loss coming against the Pistons on opening night. Kent Bazemore has stepped up in DeMarre Carroll's absence.
5 (13) (4-3)  That's more like it. In four straight wins, James Harden has averaged 38.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists.
6 (3) (4-2)  One or two possessions away from beating Golden State and Houston this past week. Not bad for those to be your only two blemishes.
7 (10) (5-1)  Andre Drummond is an early-season MVP candidate (not named Steph Curry). He's averaging 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds for the league's biggest surprise.
8 (2) (4-3)  Three straight L's before topping Suns on Sunday, but still second in offensive efficiency. Durant and Westbrook still figuring out how to best complement each other.
9 (6) (5-2)  Road win over the Thunder? Good. Road losses to Orlando and a 20-point loss to Miami? Not so good. Still, a solid start north of the border.
10 (12) (4-2)  Their NBA-best defense hasn't skipped a beat since the second half of last season. They're just fine picking up wins in old-school fashion.
11 (9) (4-3)  A road win over the Pacers would have been nice, but they responded with a dominant performance against the Raptors.
12 (7) (4-3)  The roller coaster continues for Chicago, with an impressive win over Oklahoma City sandwiched between confusing losses to Charlotte and Minnesota.
13 (14) (3-3)  They began the week with an impressive home win over the Spurs, but followed it with blowout losses against Boston and Atlanta.
14 (15) (3-3)  Staying afloat in the West while Chandler Parsons ramps up his minutes will do the Mavs just fine. Dwight Powell (11.3 points, 8.0 rebounds) has been a nice surprise.
15 (15) (3-3)  Three of their four losses have come to contenders, but they've lost those four games by an average of 27.3 points. Odd start for the Griz.
16 (22) (3-4)  Maybe premature to have them this high, but they were arguably this past week's most impressive team that doesn't play in the Bay Area.
17 (19) (4-3)  Four straight wins came against teams with a combined 3-24 record (BRK x2, NYK, PHI). Let's wait and see if they can keep it going.
18 (18) (2-3)  Quiet start for the Celtics, though an impressive win against the Raptors could jumpstart things.
19 (23) (3-4)  Don't be surprised to see Orlando in the hunt for a playoff spot. Scott Skiles has the young Magic playing competitive basketball. The talent is there.
20 (26) (4-3)  Credit to Terry Stotts for replacing four of five starters and beginning the year like this, Sunday night's home collapse against Detroit notwithstanding.
21 (16) (3-4)  It's early, but Tyson Chandler hasn't been the difference maker defensively we're used to seeing. Phoenix ranks 17th in efficiency, same as they did a year ago.
22 (21) (3-4)  Kristaps Porzingis hasn't looked like a rookie, averaging 12.3 points and 8.6 rebounds in just 24.3 minutes per game. Also averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals.
23 (24) (3-2)  Karl-Anthony Towns has been every bit as good as advertised, and Andrew Wiggins scoring 31 on Jimmy Butler in a road win over the Bulls was an eye opener.
24 (25) (2-4)  Could be higher on these rankings, as they tout the NBA's fourth most efficient offense after ranking 28th in that category a year ago.
25 (27) (2-4)  Great to see Kenneth Faried balling again. The Manimal exploded for 28 and 15 in a win over the Lakers.
26 (20) (1-5)  Tough schedule made tougher with DeMarcus Cousins out of the lineup. Willie Cauley-Stein has been a bright spot early.
27 (17) (0-6)  Mind-boggling to see Anthony Davis' team rank last in the NBA in defensive efficiency (111.9). Worst possible start for Alvin Gentry.
28 (29) (1-6)  Kobe Bryant is ranked 125th of 126 qualified players in FG% (32.0%). And he's 21st in field goal attempts (16.2). That is....not good.
29 (30) (0-6)  Jahlil Okafor has struggled mightily on the defensive end. Still, he's everything we thought he'd be as a scorer (19.7 points, 52.7% FG).
30 (28) (0-7)  Danny Ainge and the Celtics must be salivating watching the Nets flounder (Brooklyn owes Boston its unprotected 2016 first round pick).

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

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USA TODAY

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.

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.”