Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Pistons/Bulls, Rockets/Mavs battling it out

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NBA Power Rankings: Pistons/Bulls, Rockets/Mavs battling it out

With two-and-a-half weeks remaining in the NBA's regular season, there's still plenty to be determined.

Dallas has lost nine of 11 and is now on the outside looking in, the Bulls are looking for any sense of identity to catch the Pistons in the East, and the third through sixth seeds in the East could go any way the final nine or 10 games of the season.

Which teams will step up and finish the year strong? Which teams will play spoiler? And will the Warriors make history?

See how each of the 30 teams stacked up in this week's edition of the NBA 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 | Week 17 | Week 18 | Week 19 | Week 20 | Week 21

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (2) 66-7 Steve Kerr said he won't be resting starters down the stretch. Good for him. 73 wins would be historic. They need to go 7-2 to accomplish it.
(1) 61-12 Gregg Popovich essentially conceding the No. 1 seed in the West, resting his stars on Saturday in a 19-point loss to the Thunder. But make no mistake: They'll be ready for the postseason.
(3) 52-21 LeBron appears to be gearing up for the postseason. In his last five he's averaged 28.4/7.4/7.4 and shot 58 percent from the field. Buckle up, Eastern Conference.
4 (5) 51-22 Don't look now but the West's third best team owns the league's longest winning streak (seven), with five of those victories coming against playoff teams. They've averaged 117 points in that stretch.
5 (4) 49-23 Losses to Houston and Boston all but kill the Raptors' chances of catching the Cavs in the East. But barring something wild, they'll set the franchise record for wins (50) this week.
6 (6) 44-30 The Hawks have quietly won 11 of 13 games, and in that span have touted the NBA's most efficient defense (95.3) and best net rating (11.8). They're getting hot at the perfect time.
7 (10) 43-30 What a recovery. They win four straight this week, including at home against the Raptors, to get back into the race for the No. 3 seed. Jae Crowder returning Thursday will only make them stronger.
8 (8) 45-27 Blake Griffin will have six games to tune up before the playoffs following his four-game suspension. Though L.A. has to feel good with a potential first round matchup against Memphis looming.
9 (7) 42-30 It will be interesting to see how the Heat use Hassan Whiteside while countering teams going small. But they'll need to find a way to keep him (26 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks on Friday) on the floor.
10 (9) 42-31 Don't discount the Hornets from trying to jump into that No. 3 seed. Currently sixth and 1.5 behind ATL, six of their last nine are against sub-.500 teams (including the next two against Philadelphia).
11 (12) 39-34 They're essentially in because of such a weak remaining schedule, but the Pacers can deliver a crushing blow to the Bulls' chances on Tuesday when the two teams meet.
12 (14) 38-36 They've lost four of six (all four came on the road to playoff teams) and really hurt their chances to jump Memphis for the No. 5 seed (and miss OKC in Round 1 in the process).
13 (11) 41-32 Myriad injuries appear to finally be taking their toll. They've lost six of eight, and their best hope is to hang on to the No. 5 seed. With no Gasol/Conley, expect them to be one-and-done.
14 (13) 36-38 If they miss the playoffs (currently 0.5 games up on Dallas for the No. 8 seed) they'll look back on Wednesday's loss to the Jazz as the reason why. Houston led by 18 in the second half.
15 (16) 39-35 They feasted on weaker competition to help them jump the Bulls for the No. 8 spot in the East and then picked up a huge victory against the Hornets. Difficult stretch coming up, though.
16 (19) 36-37 Wednesday's win against Houston was enormous. Now they play six of their last nine games at home, and their three road games are against the Suns, Nuggets and Lakers. They should be in.
17 (17) 36-37 A five-game winning streak got them back in the playoff hunt, but a crushing double-OT home loss to Minnesota really hurt their chances. They're 2.5 games back and currently on a West trip.
18 (15) 36-36 Chicago will play five times this week, with four against current playoff teams. If they can somehow go 3-2, with one win coming against Detroit (Saturday) , they could still sneak into the playoffs.
19 (18) 35-38 Rick Carlisle's group is in a free fall, having lost nine of 11, and is currently ninth in the West. And they have six games left against playoff teams. Apr. 6 against Houston could decide their fate.
20 (21) 29-44 A credit to DeMarcus Cousins, who is dealing with nagging injuries but appears ready to finish out the season instead of shutting down. He's the front runner for All-NBA First Team honors at center.
21 (22) 31-43 Denver has plenty of work to do this offseason (getting healthy will be a start), but Emmanuel Mudiay's game-winning heave was perhaps the shot of the year.
22 (26) 30-44 All Kristaps Porzingis needed to break out of his slump was a home-and-home against the Bulls defense. In those two games he averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and hit 5 of 11 triples.
23 (25) 24-49 The Timberpuppies aren't backing down to end the year, as witnessed by their double-OT victory in Washington. They can play spoiler this week against Utah and Dallas, too.
24 (23) 30-43 Orlando has to like seeing a strong finish from second year point guard Elfrid Payton, who has averaged 16.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 9.0 assists in his last three games.
25 (20) 30-44 They struggled as expected in a seven-game stretch all against playoff teams, going 1-6. It wouldn't be the worst thing for them to continue their slide and sneak in the top-7 of the lottery.
26 (24) 26-46 Fixing the defense (and getting Anthony Davis healthy) will be the Pelicans' biggest offseason concern. Per ESPN, the Pellies are 0-33 this year when failing to reach 100 points.
27 (27) 21-51 A credit to the Nets after victories over the Cavaliers and Pacers last week. Seven of their final 10 games will be on the road, and they're just 1.5 games ahead of Phoenix for a top-3 lottery spot.
28 (28) 20-53 Devin Booker is showing more signs of being the steal of the 2015 Draft. In his last five he's averaged 22.8 points and 4.8 assists. His shooting and turnovers have been ugly, but he's still just 19.
29 (29) 15-58 Julius Randle logged his first career triple-double last week, and in his last four has averaged 14.8 points, 13.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and a steal and block per game.
30 (30) 9-65 They've got three realistic chances left to avoid tying the worst record in NBA history with home games against New Orleans, New York and Milwaukee.

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.”