Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Thomas, Celtics make a statement

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NBA Power Rankings: Thomas, Celtics make a statement

The race for the No. 3 seed in the East is heating up.

The Celtics took a significant step forward in that department by knocking off the Warriors in Oakland on Saturday night. Isaiah Thomas had a career night, going toe-to-toe with Steph Curry in scoring 22 points and handing out six assists. Jared Sullinger added 20 points and 12 rebounds, while Evan Turner added 21 points in the crucial victory.

With Jae Crowder back in the lineup, they've got a good chance to move past the Hawks and hold off the Heat for the third seed, which would both give them homecourt advantage in the first round and avoid the Cavaliers in the East semifinals.

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 | Week 22

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) 69-8 The chase for 73 wins is still intact if they can finish the season 4-1. It will be interesting to see how Gregg Popovich plays his cards in the two remaining Spurs-Warriors games to end the year.
(2) 64-12 Now owners of the league's longest home winning streak, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge each went for 30+ points in a win over the Raptors. Yep, they're ready for the postseason.
(3) 55-22 LeBron James continued his tear this past week, and the Cavs picked up impressive victories against the Hawks and Hornets. Seems like they're righting the ship.
4 (4) 53-24 There isn't a better 1-2 combo in the league than KD and Russ, Steph and Klay included. But a league-lead 13 blown fourth quarter leads does not bode well in the playoffs. They need to close better.
5 (5) 51-25 They're entrenched in the No. 2 seed in the East, but they can make statements about their postseason potential against the Hornets and Hawks this week. 
6 (7) 45-32 There isn't a bigger statement to make than knocking off a healthy Warriors team at Oracle. But that's what Brad Stevens' group did, and they're now tied with the Hawks for third in the East.
7 (8) 48-28 Blake Griffin is finally back. They're basically locked in the No. 4 seed, but getting Griffin up to speed before the postseason will be their biggest hurdle to close out the regular season.
8 (6) 45-32 They failed both big tests this week against the Raptors and Cavaliers. Still, they're playing well enough that they could wind up with the No. 3 seed. Saturday's tilt against Boston could decide it.
9 (10) 44-32 Winners in five of seven has them in contention for the No. 3 seed. Sunday's wire-to-wire loss in Cleveland was a bit of a reality check in terms of where they are. Still, that offense is dangerous.
10 (9) 44-32 A trip out west resulted in a 1-2 record, including a head-scratching loss to the Lakers. Still, they're very much in the running for the coveted No. 3 seed. That means avoiding the Cavs in Round 2.
11 (12) 41-37 Winners in four of five, combined with Memphis' free fall, has the Blazers one-half game behind the Grizzlies for the fifth seed. That means avoiding the Thunder and instead getting the Clippers.
12 (15) 41-36 Detroit's magic number for a playoff berth is three. And despite a difficult stretch to end the year, they should be in after Saturday's road win over the Bulls.
13 (11) 41-36 Wins are wins, that much is true. But the Pacers needed late-game surges to beat the Sixers and Knicks. They should get in, but they're hardly playing good basketball down the stretch.
14 (16) 39-38 Winners in six of eight, with their only losses to Golden State and Oklahoma City, the Jazz appear primed to grab one of the final two playoff spots.
15 (14) 38-39 They're still a game behind Dallas and Utah for a playoff spot in the West, but Sunday's come-from-behind win over the Thunder could give them the boost they need down the stretch.
16 (19) 39-38 Four straight wins over sub-.500 teams was exactly what they needed to get back into the playoff race. As expected, Wednesday's tilt against the Rockets could be the decider.
17 (18) 39-38 Saturday's home loss to the Pistons may have burst their playoff bubble, but Jimmy Butler isn't going down without a fight. He was magnificent during the Bulls' five-game week.
18 (17) 37-40 Nothing says you've bowed out of the playoff picture than a nine-point loss to the Kings. They're four games back with five to play. In other words, ready the ping pong balls.
19 (13) 41-36 Uh oh. The Grizzlies have lost six straight and could fall as far as seventh or eighth in the West. That, of course, means a first round exit at the hands of the Warriors or Spurs.
20 (20) 31-46 It's time to start scoreboard watching for the Kings, who are just two games ahead of the Nuggets for the 11th best record. The Bulls get Sacramento's pick if it falls outside the top 10. 
21 (24) 33-44 They knocked off Chicago and Indiana to end March, and can affect the Eastern Conference standings with games against Detroit, Miami (twice) and Charlotte to end the year.
22 (25) 32-45 Point Giannis is no longer a temporary deal, and he was magnificent in Sunday's loss to the Bulls, going for a career-high 34 points and nine assists.
23 (26) 29-47 Tim Frazier is playing himself into a solid role next season for the Pelicans. He went for 19 points and 13 assists in Sunday's win over the Nets.
24 (22) 31-47 In yet another lost season, the Knicks were able to salvage a season series split with the Nets with a 14-point win. That's the extent of the Knicks' positives right now.
25 (21) 32-46 The schedule makers did the Nuggets no favors to end the season. Denver finishes with Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Utah and Portland.
26 (23) 25-52 It came in a losing effort, but Karl-Anthony Towns added another chapter to his historic rookie year on Sunday: 11 points, 21 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals and a block against the Mavs. Wow.
27 (29) 16-60 For a team 46 games below .500 there are signs of optimism. The latest came on Julius Randle's game-winner in a home victory over the Heat. And they've got the No. 2 lottery spot locked up.
28 (27) 21-56 Shutting down Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young would make a lot more sense if the Nets had rights to their first round pick this year. They're a game up on Phoenix for the third worst record.
29 (28) 20-57 This week they passed the Sixers for worst in the NBA in points allowed per game (107.6). A healthy Eric Bledsoe will help next year, but this season can't end quickly enough.
30 (30) 9-68 They've wrapped up the league's worst record by losing 25 of their last 26 games. Even by #TheProcess's standards that's pretty brutal. Ben Simmons might not even be able to fix this mess.

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.”

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.