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NBA Power Rankings: The closely contested Eastern Conference

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NBA Power Rankings: The closely contested Eastern Conference

There are 10 teams in the Eastern Conference within 3.5 games of each other. Oh, and they're the 10 best teams in the conference.

Yes, the East has been entirely muddled all year and six weeks into the season we still haven't seen much separation.

The Cavaliers lead the way with a 15-7 record and certainly should improve as Kyrie Irving nears a return to the lineup. The Raptors and Bulls are at No. 2 and 3, respectively, as many expected they'd be. Charlotte, Indiana and Miami are next up, so the teams that likely will be in the thick of it in May are atop the conference. But there's little wiggle room among them, as well as the teams just below them.

Orlando, sitting at 12-11, is currently out of the playoff picture by a single game and yet are just 3.5 games out of the top spot in the East. The top dogs will separate themselves eventually, but for now it's wild to think that a two- or three-game losing streak could vault a team from a top-3 spot in the conference to out of the playoff picture as a whole.

On to the rankings:

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

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (24-1) So they're human. Certainly not a bad loss by any standards, considering it came on the final game of a seven-game road trip.
(2) (20-5) One player in the NBA is averaging at least 20 points, two steals and one block per game: Kawhi Leonard.
(6) (16-8) They've won an NBA-best five straight games, with Kevin Durant averaging 25.8 points on shooting 58.6 percent in that span.
4 (5) (15-7) It would be great to see Kyrie Irving return on Thursday as the Cavaliers travel to Oklahoma City. Big barometer test for both teams.
5 (9) (16-9) DeMar DeRozan is 32-for-34 from the free throw line in his last three games. He's a big reason Toronto is up to No. 6 in offensive efficiency.
6 (4) (13-9) Beating up on the Heat was sandwiched in between blowout losses against Golden State and Detroit. They go as Paul George goes.
7 (7) (13-8) Just win, baby. The Bulls are 2-0 since Taj Gibson replaced Nikola Mirotic in the starting lineup despite the No. 28 offensive efficiency.
8 (3) (13-9) They needed a desperation comeback against the Grizzlies to avoid losing their fourth straight. Dwyane Wade was clutch down the stretch.
9 (13) (14-10) This team is for real. After nearly beating the Warriors in 2OT, they traveled to Charlotte the following night and beat the Hornets.
10 (8) (14-9) Three teams rank in the top-6 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Golden State, San Antonio and the Hornets.
11 (16) (14-10) Since falling below .500 the Clips have won seven of nine. DeAndre Jordan has averaged 15.7 rebounds in his last seven games.
12 (15) (12-12) Winners in seven of nine, and James Harden is starting to roll as the Rockets are finally back to .500. 
13 (12) (13-11) The Mavericks are just 5-5 at home after going 27-14 there a year ago. Still lots to figure out with this reworked roster.
14 (10) (14-11) Blown out by Oklahoma City and San Antonio to end this past week, they could pick up a big win against the Heat on Monday.
15 (12) (13-12) A 1-3 week, and now they get Washington, Dallas, Chicago and Indiana. A huge week to see where they stand among West contenders.
16 (18) (14-11) Lose four of five, win four straight, lose two then win two. Back and forth they go, but a 22-point win over the Pacers was impressive.
17 (14) (12-11) Evan Fournier has come to a screeching halt. He's averaged 9.3 points on 38 percent shooting in his last nine games.
18 (22) (11-14) Winners in three of their last four, with Eric Bledsoe averaging 22.8 points and 5.8 assists in that span. Getting Tyson Chandler back will help.
19 (17) (10-12) They've lost five of seven and get the Spurs on the road on Monday. The loss of Rudy Gobert has taken a massive toll defensively.
20 (25) (10-15) Giannis Antetokounmpo records his first career triple-double as the Bucks knock off the Warriors. Let's see if that jumpstarts them.
21 (24) (10-12) More leg issues for Bradley Beal, who will be sidelined two weeks. Big for the Wiz to get road wins over Miami and Dallas.
22 (23) (6-17) The record doesn't do this squad justice, as they're a borderline playoff talent when healthy. The problem is they haven't been healthy all year.
23 (20) (11-14) Carmelo Anthony is shooting a career-worst 41.2 percent from the field, but he scored 37 on 13 of 21 shooting in a Saturday win over Portland.
24 (19) (10-15) It's a lost season in Portland, but Damian Lillard and C.J McCollum continue to build a stellar young backcourt for the future.
25 (21) (9-14) Players averaging 9+ boards, 2+ blocks and shooting 50% from the field? DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside, Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns.
26 (27) (9-15) Sign me up for more throwback Rajon Rondo. He's now up to averages of 12.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and a league-high 11.0 assists per game.
27 (26) (9-14) Just not a ton to get excited about with this group, though wins in three of four is a nice bounce-back after losing eight straight.
28 (28) (7-16) Brook Lopez is quietly playing like an All-Star. He's averaging 19.4 points and a career-high 8.2 rebounds for the Nets.
29 (29) (3-21) Great to see D'Angelo Russell starting to put it together. He's averaged 19.7 points in his last three outings.
30 (30) (1-24) Robert Covington is shooting 50% on 4.4 two-pointers per game. He's shooting 31 percent on 6.9 3-pointers per game. Take it inside, bud.

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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USA TODAY

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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USA TODAY

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.