Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: The cluttered Eastern Conference

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NBA Power Rankings: The cluttered Eastern Conference

Close playoff races down the stretch are commonplace in the NBA, a league where more than half the teams make the postseason.

Such is the case in the Western Conference, where the No. 6 Dallas Mavericks are just three games ahead of the No. 9 Utah Jazz, with the Trail Blazers and Rockets currently holding the final two playoff spots. The Warriors' historic run hasn't deterred the Spurs from competing for homecourt advantage, and they're still just 3.5 games back of the Splash Brothers and will play each other three times still.

But in the Eastern Conference things are even tighter. Consider that a mere two games separate the fourth-seeded Miami Heat and the ninth-seeded Detroit Pistons. One stretch of hot play could be the difference between having homecourt in the first round of a playoff series and missing the postseason altogether. Even the Wizards are two games back of the No. 8 Bulls. There will be plenty of seed-shifting in the East from now until early April. Toronto has also moved within two games of the Cavaliers, who have lost three of four.

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 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) 53-5 Stephen Curry's magical, historical, unfathomable season added another chapter Saturday against the Thunder. His game-winner from 35 feet, his 12th triple of the night, was on another level. He's the MVP and it's not close.
(3) 50-9 A 7-1 Rodeo Road Trip was the latest statement to the Warriors (and the rest of the league) that the West is still up for grabs. Tim Duncan became the fifth player in NBA history with 3,000 blocks on Saturday night. 
(4) 41-18 Kevin Durant went from hero to zero in a 14-second span Saturday night in the loss to the Warriors. Still, that was more proof that the Thunder are Golden State's biggest threat in the West. KD and Russ will be a steep challenge if they meet.
4 (5) 39-19 Not only did Kyle Lowry drop a career-high 43 points and hit the game-winner in the Raptors' win over the Cavs on Friday. He also limited Kyrie Irving to 10 points. Toronto could make the East real interesting in late May.
5 (2) 41-17 The Cavs are just 11-6 under Tyronn Lue, and they've lost three of their last four. They've got Indiana, Washington and Boston at home this week. A 3-0 week would help ease some concerns.
6 (6) 38-20 Chris Paul had one of the best individual lines of the year Friday against the Kings: 40 points, 8 rebounds, 13 assists, 2 steals, 13-20 FG, 4-9 3FG, 10-10 FT. And +14 in a 10-point road victory.
7 (7) 35-25 The C's haven't lost at home since Jan. 6, a span of 10 games. And now they get eight of their next 12 in Boston. Interested to see if they can catch the top two dogs in the East/stave off Miami for the No. 3 seed.
8 (8) 33-26 Joe Johnson scored 12 points in his first game with the Heat. Miami isn't short on wings, but Johnson gives them an efficient scorer and apt defender, as well as someone with valuable playoff experience.
9 (11) 32-28 Damian Lillard and Co. are 17-4 since Jan. 10, the third best record in the NBA behind Golden State (19-3) and San Antonio (18-3). That's good company, and Dame doesn't look like he's slowing down anytime soon.
10 (14) 33-27 Picking up two conference wins (CHI, CHA) was crucial to end the week with a brutal March schedule upcoming. They're on the road for five straight, beginning with Golden State on Tuesday and ending in Toronto next Thursday.
11 (9) 31-28 The Pacers have lost three of four, and will now play six of seven on the road, beginning Monday in Cleveland. Oh, and their one home game in that span? When the Spurs come to town a week from today. Bis stretch for Frank Vogel's group.
12 (10) 34-24 They're still No. 5 in the West and aren't in any real danger of missing the postseason. But being on the wrong end of the Suns snapping their 13-game losing streak is ugly no matter how you slice it.
13 (12) 30-28 They finish a difficult six-game road trip with a 4-2 record and now get 10 of their next 12 at home, where they tout a 19-9 record (third best in the East). That's a good sign for their playoff chances.
14 (16) 32-28 Chandler Parsons was a one-man wrecking crew Sunday night against the Wolves, going for 29 points, six rebounds and four assists in just 27 minutes. Dallas has won three of four.
15 (20) 31-29 An East-best four-game win streak has included victories over the Cavaliers and Raptors. Tobias Harris has averaged 16.3 points on 51 percent shooting in that span. He's making Stan Van Gundy look smart.
16 (15) 30-28 Doug McDermott has stepped up in a big way with Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler missing time. The sharpshooter is averaging 19.6 points on 50 percent shooting from deep in his last five games.
17 (17) 28-30  A pair of 20-point, 10-assist games against the Sixers and Cavaliers (both W's) was a good start to Washington's biggest stretch of the year. They're two games behind Charlotte, Chicago and Detroit for a playoff spot.
18 (13) 28-30 Losers in five of seven after winning a season-best seven straight, the battle for a playoff spot gets more difficult with five of six on the road, including five against current playoff teams.
19 (18) 23-35  Thursday's win over the Thunder was seriously impressive. But 11 of their 17 March opponents have winning records. That includes Golden State, San Antonio twice, Portland, Toronto, Indiana and the Clippers. Bunches of L's coming.
20 (19) 29-30 James Harden's performance Friday in Portland was superb, scoring 46 points as Houston overcame a 21-point deficit to earn a victory. The bad news is that the massive win salvaged a 1-2 week. They're clinging to the No. 8 seed.
21 (21) 24-33 DeMarcus Cousins is making a strong case for a spot on the All-NBA First Team. Since the calendar flipped to 2016 he's averaged 30.2 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists, plus a block, steal and 3-pointer per game.
22 (23) 23-36 Danilo Gallinari's most recent ankle sprain will give youngsters Gary Harris, Will Barton and Emmanuel Mudiay more touches to progress before the end of the year.
23 (22) 24-35 Giannis Antetokounmpo logged his first career-triple double (27 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) on Tuesday against the Lakers. It was Milwaukee's fourth win in their last give games, though they've dropped two straight since.
24 (26) 25-36 Phil Jackson should probably do less nonsensical tweeting about Stephen Curry and do more worrying about his team that's lost 14 of 17.
25 (24) 26-32 In six games since Tobias Harris was dealt to Detroit, snubbed dunk contest champion Aaron Gordon has averaged 14.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 steals in 31.3 minutes per game for Orlando.
26 (25) 19-41 We didn't get the KAT-Brow matchup Saturday night in New Orleans. But Towns went for 30-15, Andrew Wiggins dropped 20 and Zach LaVine added 25 in a solid road win. The young guns are getting better up north.
27 (28) 17-42 A .500 record in their last 10 games, their first two-game winning streak since Dec. 10 and taking another step toward rebuilding in waiving Joe Johnson? A nice solid week for Sean Marks and the Nets.
28 (27) 8-51 Opponents have averaged 118.9 points during Philly's seven-game losing streak. Barring some unexpected hot stretch of play they'll have the most Lottery balls in the Ben Simmons sweepstakes.
29 (29) 11-49 Year 20 has been good to D'Angelo Russell. Since his birthday on Tuesday, the No. 2 overall pick has averaged 22.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in two games. Still, the Lakers have lost eight straight.
30 (30) 15-44 They haven't won on the road in nearly three months (Dec. 7 in Chicago) and will play eight of their next 10 games away from Phoenix. Incredibly, we still haven't seen rock bottom. They're 3-28 in their last 31 games.

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

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USA TODAY

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

The theme of the 2018-19 NBA season will be: “old faces in new places”. Like a season-long game of the NBA on TNT crew’s “Who he play for?” game, this year will be about fans trying to get used to the idea of LeBron James in purple (I won’t call it ‘Forum Blue’)-and-gold, DeMarcus Cousins being on a championship-contending franchise and Kawhi Leonard being the new face of Toronto.

The Warriors are still the easy favorite to make it four NBA championships in five years, but they will be tested perhaps more than any year before in a loaded Western Conference, where even the lowliest of teams (here’s to you Phoenix and Memphis!) made solid offseason moves geared towards winning games.

Over in the now-LeBron-less East, there is hope amongst at least four-to-five teams that they could actually have a shot to win the conference. The Pacers still have budding superstar Victor Oladipo, the Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Raptors and Bucks made head coaching changes that could lead to deep playoff runs. But with the rest of the Eastern conference being stuck between lottery contention and middle of the pack, expect the half-experienced, half-youthful Celtics to takeover as East juggernaut.

But whether or not your favorite franchise is aiming for a high draft pick or a postseason berth, there is tons to be excited in a 2018-19 NBA season that will surely be an intriguing one. Check out Week 1 of our NBA Power Rankings right here.

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

The Bulls and Bobby Portis were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension by today’s deadline, which will make the power forward a restricted free agent next offseason.

According to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein and Gar Forman had “lengthy face-to-face negotiations” on Monday prior to the deadline. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The negotiations – and lack of a deal – come after a summer and training camp in which Portis continued to show progression. After beginning the preseason coming off the bench Portis quickly played his way into the starting lineup alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Portis finished five preseason games averaging 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 22.4 minutes.

Portis, the 22nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, has seen his role increase each of his three seasons. He made a jump last season in Year 3, averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes. He was one of three players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes.

Though the Bulls certainly had the room to sign Portis to an extension, there were obvious reasons on both sides to wait on a deal. For starters, the Bulls will still be able to match any deal Portis receives in free agency next July, much like what happened with Zach LaVine and the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls maintain their abundance of cap space for the 2019 offseason, when they’ll be able to offer a max contract to the top-tier free agents, and they get to see if Portis makes another jump.

For Portis, it’s a case of him betting on himself. If the Bulls came in with a number he wasn’t satisfied with – to help keep their max cap space – he now finds himself on a contract year playing for his next contract. Still only 23 years old, Portis should cash in in July.

Two players from Portis’ draft class were able to cash in. Pacers center Myles Turner signed a reported four-year, $80 million extension and Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. agreed to a four-year, $45 million deal. Portis likely would have fallen somewhere in between those two deals had an agreement occurred.

The Bulls are hardly in an easy situation with Portis. Though they value the versatile power forward, Lauri Markkanen is entrenched at the position for the foreseeable future and the team just spent last year’s No. 7 overall pick on center Wendell Carter Jr. Portis realistically is stuck behind both those players, though he certainly has starting level NBA talent.