Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Christmas Day sheds light on several title contenders

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USA TODAY

NBA Power Rankings: Christmas Day sheds light on several title contenders

Sadly—fortunately?—the Bulls were left off of the NBA Christmas Day slate. But while we didn’t get to see another big night from Lauri Markkanen and co., we did get a better idea of the true contenders among the some of the top teams in the league.

Christmas Day featured five games, all involving teams still in the playoff hunt sans the Knicks. So what did we learn?

We learned that the Rockets can still hang with the league’s best, as they downed the Thunder 113-109 behind 41 points from James Harden. Houston held the Thunder to 43 percent from the field and seem to have rediscovered last seasons’ mojo. Their win was even more impressive considering that it came without Chris Paul in the lineup.

https://twitter.com/HoustonRockets/status/1077927008930353153

PJ Tucker and Danuel House Jr. form a tenacious defensive duo on the wings, with rookie Gary Clark Jr. also playing the role of low-usage, defensive-minded forward well. Turnovers will continue to be an issue for Houston in the absence of Paul, just as 3-point shooting will continue to be an issue for the Thunder all season. But both teams should see the light at the end of the playoff tunnel by the end of the season.

There wasn’t much to take away from the first game of the day, as the Bucks 14-point win over the Knicks was only surprising because Milwaukee shot a miserable 6-for-32 from the 3-point line.


Giannis Antetokounmpo dominated with a 30/14/3/4/2 stat line, though New York got solid performances from some of their young talent, with Noah Vonleh specifically shining with a 14-point, 15-rebound double-double in 33 minutes.

Boston proved that last season’s playoff series win over the Sixers was no fluke, as Kyrie Irving got whatever he wanted all  night. He dropped 40 points in the OT win, including some truly amazing shots that he hit while guarded by All-Star Jimmy Butler.


The Sixers lack of bench production--13 points off the bench compared to 25 for the Celtics --sunk them in this game. With their “big 3” in place, the rest of this season should be about adding depth around the margins for Philly.

Even if the Sixers had home court advantage in the playoffs, they will be hard-pressed to make the NBA Finals with Landry Shamet being the best shooter off the bench.

The final two matchups of the night were Western Conference showdowns. The main event of the evening (Warriors-Lakers) almost marred by injury, as LeBron James went down with a groin injury after just 21 minutes of play. But once James went down, Rajon Rondo led the charge. He showed a heightened aggressiveness on offense, finishing with 15 points and 10 assists, while shooting 1-for-3 from the 3-point line. Los Angeles also had seven players score in double figures. We learned that the Lakers will be a tough out in the postseason because of the attention to detail on defense, combined with their ability to get up-and-down the floor quickly. Curry had a rough game against the Lakers, and Lonzo Ball deserves some credit for applying pressure on or off-ball.

In the Christmas nightcap, the Jazz dominated the Trail Blazers 117-96. Utah is still trying to climb back into the playoff race, as they sit a full two games back of the No. 8 seed. But we learned that their dominant defense is capable of vaulting them back into the thick of things, even with a struggling offense.

Donovan Mitchell is still shooting a horrid 31 percent over his last five games, but in that same span the Jazz are playing some of their best defense of the season. Utah is tops in the league in defensive rating over their last five games, allowing an impressively low 97 points per 100 possessions. Until Mitchell starts shooting better, the offense can stay afloat by emphasizing Rudy Gobert and Ricky Rubio more than usual. The duo combined for 32 points in the Jazz’ Christmas day win, one of the rare times Mitchell and Rubio have scored effectively, at the same time.


There are still doubts to be had as far as the Jazz’ case to make the postseason. If Mitchell’s regression this season is real, then move the Jazz to the top of the list of teams that need to make a roster move. They can win games with a less efficient Mitchell, but it is increasingly hard to string together wins with the offense being where it is currently.

Now that all of the Christmas Day dust has settled, we sit with 11 teams in playoff contention in the East and 14 (!!) in the ultra-competitive, parity-filled West. See how Christmas Day and the rest of the week changed our NBA Power Rankings here.

Zach LaVine improving his chances for Eastern Conference All-Star spot

Zach LaVine improving his chances for Eastern Conference All-Star spot

Zach LaVine let it be known the moment the NBA announced the All-Star game was coming to Chicago in 2020 that he would love to represent the Bulls in the Sunday night main event.

LaVine’s chances looked pretty slim when both he and the team got out of the gates slowly this season. LaVine averaged 20.2 points as the Bulls finished October with a 1-4 record, and he shot just 42.6% from the field in a 5-10 November.

But since that time, LaVine has picked up his offensive output, averaging 25.1 points in December and 30 points so far in January. He’s also had two of the best fourth-quarter performances of the season, carrying the Bulls to come-from-behind wins at Charlotte and vs. Cleveland at the United Center last Saturday.

In that road game against the Hornets, LaVine scored a career-high 49 points, making 13 of his 17 attempts from 3-point range, including the game-winner at the buzzer. LaVine finished one shy of the NBA record of 14 3-point makes, set by Klay Thompson against the Bulls last season.

Against the Cavaliers, LaVine scored 21 of his 42 points in the 4th quarter to help the home team erase a 15-point deficit heading into the final 12 minutes. Plus, he outdueled All-Star reserve candidate Bradley Beal earlier this month, outscoring the Wizards’ guard 30-23 in a 115-106 Bulls win.

LaVine faces a lot of competition for the four reserve spots that are potentially available for guards (three frontcourt, two backcourt, and two wild card players will be selected by conference coaches), and it could come down to whether the coaches put more emphasis on win-loss record or individual statistics. 

If Atlanta’s Trae Young and Boston’s Kemba Walker get the starting spots, LaVine will be competing with the likes of Beal, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie, Detroit’s Derrick Rose, Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon for anywhere between two and four spots, depending on how the wild card selections fall.

Given the recent history of coaches’ votes, you can expect Simmons and Lowry to get the nod for the two reserve backcourt spots, with LaVine and Beal the top candidates for one or both wild card selections. Plus, there’s always the chance NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will have to replace one of the 12 Eastern Conference All-Stars because of injury, with LaVine the likely top choice to represent the home city.

Zach has told reporters he’s more likely to do the Slam Dunk contest Saturday night if he’s selected for the Eastern Conference squad, so a lot could be riding on the announcement of All-Star reserves on January 30th.

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Who makes it to the All-Star Game?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Who makes it to the All-Star Game?

The NBA All-Star Game voting is almost up and the biggest question is if Zach Lavine make the cut. Jason Goff is joined by Will Perdue, and Kendall Gill as they give their official East and West All-Stars for this season.

(2:05) - If Zach Lavine makes the ASG, who doesn't go?

(3:54) - Eastern Conference selections

(8:12) - Debate on if Trae Young should go to the ASG

(13:48) - Does the League have influence on who makes the ASG?

(15:38) - Should Lavine use Dunk Contest as leverage for the ASG?

(18:23) - How Chicago will react to having All-Star Weekend

(19:15) - Chance that Derrick Rose will make the ASG

(20:51) - Western Conference selections

(22:26) - Fan voting needs to be gone

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

Bulls Talk Podcast

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