Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: The league's other best team

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NBA Power Rankings: The league's other best team

The Golden State Warriors have rightfully hogged headlines this season. That'll happen when you're setting NBA records left and right before the calendar flips to the new year.

But just below Steph Curry's 26-1 team in the Western Conference standings are the San Antonio Spurs. At 23-5, winners of five straight and nine of 10, and a point differential (+13.2) nearly as good as Golden State's (+13.4), Greg Popovich's group is the best team in the NBA that doesn't play its home games in Oakland.

Kawhi Leonard has been nothing short of magnificent, averaging 21.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists on 50.9/49.0/88.0 shooting, while also adding two steals and nearly a block per game. LaMarcus Aldridge has shaken off a slow start and is up to 16.1 points per game, while Tony Parker has had a bounceback year to the tune of shooting nearly 56 percent from the field.

The Spurs are up to No. 3 in offensive efficiency and they lead the NBA in defensive efficiency by nearly five points per 100 possessions (in layman's terms, by A LOT).

What Golden State is doing has been historic. But don't forget about the NBA's other best team.

On to the rankings:

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

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (26-1) Friday can't come soon enough. Yes, it's Christmas Day, but it's also a rematch of last year's NBA Finals. The most highly anticipated regular season game in awhile.
(2) (23-5) Kawhi Leonard is rising in the MVP race for players not named Stephen Curry. He's been an absolute monster of efficiency this season. And as always, he's somehow done it quietly.
(4) (18-7) Dating back to last January, the Cavaliers are now 34-3 with LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in the lineup. With Irving back, the East is clearly theirs to lose.
4 (3) (18-9) They've won seven of eight but missed a golden opportunity to take down the Cavaliers before Kyrie Irving returned. A few offensive droughts did them in in Thursday's loss.
5 (8) (16-10) Hassan Whiteside was outstanding down the stretch Sunday against the Blazers, finishing with 22 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.
6 (6) (16-10) The Pacers need to get Monta Ellis (12.2 points, 42.1% shooting, 4.5 assists) going at some point. Paul George and C.J. Miles can only shoot 3-pointers for so long.
7 (5) (17-12) Like many in this range, tough to tell where the Raptors stand after double-digit losses to Indiana, Charlotte and Sacramento....and a double-digit road win over Miami.
8 (14) (17-12) The offense is coming around in a hurry, as Mike Budenholzer's group averaged 113.0 points in three straight wins this week, including 109 against the pesky Celtics.
9 (11) (16-12) Still tough to figure out where the Clippers stand among contenders after road losses to San Antonio and Houston. Monday against Oklahoma City should give us a clearer picture.
10 (16) (16-12) Wins over Indiana, Boston and Chicago in their last four games, and they'll get Brandon Jennings back this week. Detroit is on the rise.
11 (7) (15-10) As our Vincent Goodwill wrote on Sunday, all eyes will be on Jimmy Butler after he stepped up and called out Fred Hoiberg following the Bulls' second straight loss.
12 (9) (14-13) They couldn't parlay momentum from nearly topping the Warriors and then beating Charlotte, losing three straight to East contenders in Cleveland, Detroit and Atlanta.
13 (12) (15-12) Chandler Parsons seems close to shedding his minute restriction, which should change the dynamic of the Mavericks. Big home win over the Grizzlies on Saturday.
14 (17) (15-12) Somehow, some way, the Magic are all the way up to No. 6 in defensive efficiency. A blowout win over Charlotte was particularly impressive (and surprising).
15 (10) (15-11) A solid win over the Raptors was the lone positive from a week that included losses to Orlando and Washington. They had a chance to push ahead in the East.
16 (23) (14-14) Kristaps Porzingis is one of four players averaging 13 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. The others? Anthony Davis, Pau Gasol and Karl-Anthony Towns. Good company.
17 (15) (15-14) Call it a positive going 2-2 against that schedule (WAS, at CHI, at DAL, IND). Zach Randolph is averaging just 8.6 points and 6.2 rebounds since his move to the bench.
18 (12) (14-14) Watching vintage Dwight Howard above the rim in a win over the Clippers (22 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks) was fun to watch. Can it spark Houston going forward?
19 (21) (11-14) John Wall quietly putting up career-high numbers in points (19.9), field goal percentage (44.5%) and steals (2.1). The Wizards have work to do to get back in the playoff hunt.
20 (20) (11-18) Michael Carter-Williams is averaging 17.0 points on 50 percent shooting and 6.3 assists in his last seven games. And they had the Warriors on the ropes in Oracle.
21 (18) (12-17) Brandon Knight's revenge game against the Bucks on Sunday? Nine points on 3-for-10 shooting, and the Bucks earned a 101-95 road victory.
22 (22) (8-19) Baby steps for Anthony Davis and Co., who have won two of three and may be trending in the right direction as their collective health improves.
23 (19) (11-14) We write about it every week, but the defensive drop-off without Rudy Gobert continues. They're now down to 18th in efficiency after being top-3 with Gobert.
24 (26) (11-16) The Kings picked up their best win of the season Sunday night, with all five starters in double figures in a 104-94 road win over the Raptors.
25 (24) (11-18) The Blazers blew a 10-point halftime lead in Miami to close out a difficult road stretch. They play two more on the road (ATL, NOLA) before hosting the Cavs.
26 (25) (11-16) Ricky Rubio has averaged 10.2 assists in his last nine games, and nearly had a quadruple-double Wednesday against the Knicks (9/10/12/8 steals).
27 (27) (11-16) It's tough for the league's 24th ranked offense to score 125 points and lose, but that's what the Nuggets did Sunday against the Pelicans.
28 (28) (7-20) The league's longest non-Sixers losing streak (L5), the Nets hung with Miami and Indiana this week but couldn't pull off either upset.
29 (29) (4-23) A resurgent Kobe Bryant is shooting 49 percent in his last six games, averaging 18.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
30 (30) (1-28) During their 10-game losing streak, the Sixers have been outscored by an average of 108.6 to 82.0. Good luck, Mike D'Antoni.

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
 
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
 
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

LOS ANGELES—Kris Dunn wanted to have some fun in the Rising Stars game while Lauri Markkanen wanted to get a win.

Both accomplished their goals, being on opposite sides for the first time as the best first and second year players were divided into U.S. and International teams, with the World Team winning 155-124 Friday night at Staples Center.

It wasn’t set up for either Dunn or Markkanen to truly stand out considering the presence of Lakers and Celtics players who were more notable and flashy, along with the spectacular exploits of rookies Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Dennis Smith Jr (Denver).

Those two certainly wowed the crowd at times with half-court alley-oop passes, giving a preview of what Saturday night will look like, considering both will be in the dunk contest.

Dunn scored nine points in 18 minutes while Markkanen scored 15 in 22 minutes. Both came off the bench, ceding to the likes of Sacramento’s Buddy Hield (29 points) and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who turned the game into his own 3-point showcase with 30-foot bombs, hitting seven triples for 26 points off the bench.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown led all scorers with 35 points and 10 rebounds, playing for the U.S. team, showing his entire bag of tricks with spectacular dunks and dribble moves for jumpers.

Markkanen had his moments in the “game within a game” category. When prompted by World coach Rex Kalamian that the first player to get a block would get $100, Markkanen tipped the next shot at the rim and pointed to the scorer’s table, but wasn’t credited with the block.

However, he felt like he got his pound of flesh with Dunn on a tip-dunk. The two didn’t have their moment

“I almost jumped over his head. That counts,” he joked.

Dunn made sure that although he and Markkanen were on opposite sides that he remained Markkanen’s biggest fan.

When asked who was his pick for rookie of the year, he repeatedly said “Lauri Markkanen”, over the likes of Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma from the Lakers, another standout rookie.

His reasoning was simple.

“Why? He hit eight threes in Madison Square Garden,” Dunn said, half-jokingly.

Half-jokingly.

“For Lauri to be a rookie and have so much confidence in himself and to play in big time games, especially at Madison Square Garden. I’m gonna keep bringing that game up. Because He had eight three’s. You don’t see that too mnay times. Lauri is a big player for us,” Dunn said.

Markkanen probably won’t win the award but to see Dunn so steadfastly support his teammate in this way is a good sign for a budding relationship, despite the light moments of competitiveness where Dunn said he wanted to take advantage of Markkanen on the perimeter.

Markkanen’s game has been aided by Dunn on the floor and one could see how the quality of looks Markkanen had in the past few weeks suffered with Dunn out due to a concussion.

Dunn’s turnaround directly led to the Bulls turning around their season in December, and he remembers what he was doing this time last year at the All-Star break when he wasn’t selected to be part of the rookie challenge.

“Thibs had me in the gym,” Dunn said.

It seemed unlikely but he’s rebounded nicely, being a shoo-in for 15 points, eight assists and two steals on a nightly basis. Turning the corner has been a bright spot in the season.

“I wouldn’t say a specific game but each and every game I started to get more comfortable, not with myself but with my team,” Dunn said. “Being a point guard, you gotta build that chemistry with your teammates and try to figure out where everybody needs the ball. How you can be aggressive and lead at the same time.”