Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Clippers rolling along without Blake Griffin

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NBA Power Rankings: Clippers rolling along without Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin's quad injury came at a difficult time for the Clippers, who had lost three of four and had just started a five-game road trip.

But Chris Paul rallied the troops and helped the Clippers to a 4-0 week and a league-best six-game win streak.

Paul shot just 32 percent from the field in those contests but handed out 11.0 assists per game. He's a big reason why Los Angeles moved up into the top five of this week's NBA power rankings.

Here's how this week shook out:

Previous power rankings: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (31-2) Loss No. 2 comes with Stephen Curry sidelined with a calf injury. In his absence, Draymond Green averaged 16.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 11.3 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.0 block in three games. Hello.
(2) (29-6)  Ho, hum. Another perfect week for Western Coach of the Month Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. Next up? Four straight against sub-.500 opponents.
(3) (24-10) They've won 13 of 15 and are an impressive 16-2 against the Western Conference. Kevin Durant's sprained big toe will be something to keep an eye on.
4 (5) (22-9) The Cavaliers have won nine of 11, including three easy ones last week. Kyrie Irving is still shaking off some rust, shooting just 34 percent since returning to the lineup.
5 (9) (22-13) The Clippers have won a league-best six games in a row, including five without the services of Blake Griffin. DeAndre Jordan in that span: 14.0 points, 81.0% FG 14.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks.
6 (4) (21-14) The Hawks are up to No. 6 in offensive efficiency, but allowing 111 points to the Knicks like they did on Sunday is a recipe for disaster.
7 (7) (20-13)  Ugly, ugly start to the week was finished with a 24-point win over Dallas and a 22-point win over Washington. Hassan Whiteside has 51 (!!) more blocks than anyone in the league.
8 (13) (20-12)  How good was Jimmy Butler's 40-point second half in Sunday's victory over the Raptors? Michael Jordan never did it. The Bulls have now won four straight.
9 (6) (21-14)  See above: Jimmy Butler's historic night included the Raptors watching a 14-point home lead in the second half disappear. Raptors are fine, but that was one they had wrapped up.
10 (10) (19-14) Paul George went 7-for-7 with 21 points in the fourth quarter of a crucial win over the Pistons to avoid a 1-3 week. Now they play four straight tough ones on the road.
11 (11) (19-15)  Chandler Parsons losing his minutes restriction is big. Expect him to play a major role in the Mavs' playoff push once he's back to 100 percent.
12 (8) (18-15)  Yuck. Home losses to both the Nets and Lakers was not the way to follow up a four-game win streak. Still, just two games back of Toronto in the Atlantic.
13 (12) (18-16) They look like world beaters one night and Lottery-bound the next. Consistency is a major issue for the Pistons, who have now lost four of five.
14 (14) (19-15)  The calendar has flipped to 2016 and the Orlando Magic have the 11th best record in the NBA. A 10-5 December record earned Scott Skiles East Coach of the Month honors.
15 (15) (15-17) Whatever the reason, Sunday's 22-point home loss to Miami was a stark reminder that John Wall can't do it all himself. They really need Bradley Beal back sooner than later.
16 (17) (17-16) The defense isn't good enough to win games, and right now the offense is struggling, failing to top 100 points in five of their last seven games. They've lost six of eight.
17 (18) (18-17) Zach Randolph's first five games off the bench: 8.6 points on 51% shooting and 6.2 rebounds. Randolph's last five games off the bench: 14.4 points on 54% shooting and 6.6 rebounds.
18 (16) (16-19)  The Rockets failed "finals week," losing to Atlanta, Golden State and San Antonio while allowing at least 114 points in each. Winning just one of those would have been a positive sign.
19 (22) (16-19)  Kristaps Porzingis was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, averaging 12.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. He's seventh in the NBA in rejections per game.
20 (19) (14-21)  Yes, he was expected to start slow after ACL surgery. But Jabari Parker is averaging 10.7 points on 9.3 FGA in 25.8 minutes. The Bucks need him to be more aggressive.
21 (21) (11-22)  Don't look now but the Pelicans have won five of 10 and are just four games out of the final playoff spot in the West. A win in Dallas was impressive last week.
22 (24) (15-17)  Utah has won three of four, and Rodney Hood has been a big reason why. The sophomore has averaged 17.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers in that span.
23 (23) (15-21) Another week, another C.J. McCollum praising. In six games without Damian Lillard, McCollum is averaging 26.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists. And Portland is 4-2.
24 (20) (13-20) Lose at home to the Sixers and you fall in the power rankings. Pretty simple. Still, Saturday's 142-point effort against the Suns was mighty impressive.
25 (27) (12-22)  Remember that exciting 8-8 start? They're 4-14 since, and the youth movement has begun in Minnesota; Kevin Martin has been a healthy scratch in six straight.
26 (28) (10-23) Brook Lopez earns East Player of the Week honors after a monster three-game stretch, averaging 26.7 points, 13.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks. He's an All-Star.
27 (25) (12-23)  It was great to see Kenneth Faried back in action on Sunday night after being taken off on a stretcher Friday night with a neck scare.
28 (29) (8-27)  Rookie Larry Nance has really impressed of late, averaging 11.6 points on 70% shooting and 10.4 rebounds in his last five games.
29 (26) (12-25)  Rock bottom is when your team scores 22 points in the first half against a team with the league's second worst record. Jeff Hornacek's days are numbered.
30 (30) (3-33) Signing Elton Brand makes no difference on the court, but he'll do wonders as a mentor for fellow bigs Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Dallas Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”