Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Raptors cruising behind East's top backcourt

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NBA Power Rankings: Raptors cruising behind East's top backcourt

The East's best backcourt is playing its hottest basketball.

All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have the Raptors on a franchise-record 11-game winning streak and are now just 3.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the top spot in the East.

During that 11-game span, Lowry has averaged 21.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists in 39.1 minutes per game. DeRozan has been just as good, if not better, averaging 24.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in his last 11 games.

Impressively enough, the Raptors are doing this without DeMarre Carroll, who is recovering from knee surgery. Once their defensive stalwart returns the Raptors will be even more dangerous. For now, they simply look like the second best team in their conference, with the best backcourt.

On to the 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

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (44-4) Beat the Spurs by 30, the Mavericks by 20 and the Sixers by....3? Hey, a win's a win and now they just need to go 29-5 to top the '96 Bulls.
(3) (36-13) Kevin Durant has entered the MVP conversation, and this week he averaged 34.7 points and 11.7 rebounds in three Thunder victories. They've won 10 of 11.
(5) (34-12) Kevin Love seems to like Tyronn Lue's offense. Since David Blatt's firing, Love has averaged 19.2 points on 50 percent shooting and 40 percent 3-point shooting.
4 (2) (39-8) Odd week for the Spurs, who lost by 30 to the Warriors and 14 to the Cavaliers, sandwiched between a 31-point win over the Rockets. Have to drop them for the L's.
5 (4) (32-15) DeMar DeRozan will pair with Kyle Lowry to be the first starting backcourt to play in the All-Star Game in their home city since 1972. Well deserved for both players.
6 (6) (32-16) Lots more responsibility for DeAndre Jordan with Blake Griffin out 4-6 more weeks. His 17-point, 20-rebound performance in a Sunday win over the Bulls was a nice start.
7 (7) (28-20)  Jeff Green was great for the Griz this week, averaging 26.7 points on 63 percent shooting during their 3-0 week. They could really use him to be a consistent third scorer.
8 (13) (27-22) Despite losing a lead in Orlando on Monday, the Celtics have done enough to vault into the top 10. They've maintained their No. 2 defensive efficiency while winning seven of eight.
9 (15) (27-21) Here come the Heat. They're getting healthy and now have won four straight, including victories over the Bulls and Hawks. When healthy, they might be Cleveland's biggest competition in the East.
10 (8) (27-22) Ugly road losses in Indiana and Miami leave questions about where they stand in the East. How much longer will Jeff Teague be in Atlanta?
11 (9) (26-20) Pau Gasol said the Bulls aren't disciplined. He may be right after a 27-point loss to the Clippers. The rest of their West Coast trip could be rough if they don't figure things out.
12 (10) (25-23) They had a chance for a statement-making win twice this week but ended up with narrow losses to the Cavaliers and Raptors. Props to Andre Drummond for earning his first All-Star nod.
13 (12) (28-22)  In his last five games Chandler Parsons has averaged 21.0 points on 53 percent shooting and 6.8 rebounds in, most importantly, 35.2 minutes a night. He changes the Mavs' ceiling when healthy.
14 (11) (25-25) Difficult week against San Antonio, OKC and Washington, and they lost all three. They revert back to .500 and get a red-hot Miami team on Tuesday to avoid dipping below.
15 (17) (25-22) Rookie Myles Turner is the real deal. In his last seven games he's averaged 18.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. Still, the Pacers are 3-4 in those games and are still struggling for consistency.
16 (14) (21-24) About as middling a team in the East as can be. They're just 2.5 games out of the final spot in the East, but get Golden State and Oklahoma City this week. Winning one would be huge.
17 (20) (18-28) Remarkable they've won seven of nine and could make the playoffs. Jrue Holiday averaged 27.7 points and 8.0 assists in a 2-1 week for the Pellies.
18 (23) (21-25) They've won three of four to stop the bleeding and, with Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert back, can make a run at that No. 8 seed against Portland and Sacramento.
19 (16) (20-27) Of course. After we tout them as a contender for a playoff spot they lose four straight and DeMarcus Cousins injures his ankle. Ouch.
20 (18) (23-26) Looking for an All-Star snub? Damian Lillard. Forget the numbers (which are All-Star worthy): The Blazers are currently the No. 8 seed in the West. That's absurd given what they lost in the offseason.
21 (19) (23-27) It was Kristaps Porzingis vs. the Warriors and Madison Square Garden didn't explode. Instead, Zinger had 14 quiet points and the Knicks were blown out.
22 (21) (22-25)  Love seeing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back in the lineup for the Hornets. Even more, love seeing him play well with 13 points in his season debut back from shoulder surgery.
23 (22) (18-30) Gary Harris is quietly putting a string of good games together, averaging 13.2 points on 56 percent shooting in his last five games. He looks like a piece to build on for the future.
24 (24) (20-29) Khris Middleton could have been an All-Star in the East (the Bucks' record didn't help). He's averaging 17.7 points and shooting better than 41 percent from deep.
25 (25) (21-25) A come-from-behind win over the Celtics on Sunday mercifully ended an eight-game losing streak. Aaron Gordon was huge in that win, going for 19 points, 14 rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes.
26 (26) (14-35) The L's continue to pile up, and it's worth remembering here that they were once 4-2, and once 9-12. 5-23 since.
27 (27) (7-41) The Sixers' frantic finish in Saturday's buzzer-beating loss to the Warriors was one of the funnest endings to an NBA game this year. What an upset that would have been. Alas, one step closer to Ben Simmons.
28 (28) (12-36) Brook Lopez went for 31 points and 10 rebounds in a win over the Thunder on Monday. Have to wonder if the Nets consider trading him at this year's deadline.
29 (29) (14-35) Stay hot, Devin Booker. The rookie sharpshooter averaged 17.2 points on 45 percent shooting and 1.8 3-point makes per game in January.
30 (30) (9-41) Ten straight losses for a team entirely stuck in the mud. Kobe's Sunday performance against the Hornets was fun, at least.

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.”