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NBA Power Rankings: Cousins, Kings heading north in the West

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NBA Power Rankings: Cousins, Kings heading north in the West

For all the turmoil the Sacramento Kings have been through in the last 16 months, it's incredible they find themselves in this position.

Questions about arena funding, firing Mike Malone, contemplating trading DeMarcus Cousins, swinging and missing on every free agent, head coach George Karl feuding with Cousins via emojis on Twitter...the Kings were a mess.

And yet, here they are in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference after winning five straight games.

Free agent acquisition Rajon Rondo has been a godsend for Karl's squad, averaging 11.7 points and an NBA-best 11.6 assists per game. Cousins has taken his game to the next level and should earn his second consecutive All-Star berth. Rudy Gay continues to be a model of consistency while guys like Omri Casspi, Marco Belinelli and Ben McLemore have played a stellar supporting cast.

They peaked this week with three straight wins (five straight overall), knocking off the Lakers on the road before impressive home wins over Atlanta and Indiana.

Rondo and Cousins led the charge. Rondo averaged 11.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 12.7 assists in the three wins, while Cousins exploded for 48 points against the Pacers, averaging 36.0 points per game this week.

They're rolling right now, and if they decide to be buyers at the trade deadline (Ryan Anderson?) we could see the Kings, miraculously, in the postseason.

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

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (2) (40-4) Back to the top spot they go. After losing two of three, they beat the Bulls and Cavs by a combined 65 points....both on the road. Then they stomp the Pacers.
(1) (38-6) The win streak now reaches an NBA-best 13 games, but they'll get their biggest test of the year when they travel to Oracle Arena tonight. Likely Western Conference Finals preview.
(3) (33-13)

A perplexing loss to the Nets on Sunday night doesn't change the fact that they had won seven straight and look like contenders. The West may be a three-team race after all.

4 (6) (29-15) The hottest team in the East has won eight straight, the last of which came in dominating fashion over the Clippers. DeMar DeRozan should make his second All-Star team.
5 (4) (30-12) Has a team 18 games over .500 with an All-Star starter that won their conference the previous year ever had more drama than this Cavs team? Tyronn Lue has his work cut out.
6 (5) (28-16) Not having Blake Griffin around is starting to show, as they suffered big losses to the top two teams in the East, Cleveland and Toronto, this week.
7 (9) (25-20) The road loss to Minnesota notwithstanding, they're up to No. 5 in the West with a very favorable schedule upcoming in February.
8 (7) (26-19) Consistency a real issue, as they've gone L2, W2, L2, W3, L2 in their last 11 games. Jeff Teague has struggled mightily and was benched for Dennis Schroder in Thursday's loss to the Kings.
9 (12) (25-18) Don't hurt yourself trying to figure out this Bulls team. Losers in six of eight, they go wire-to-wire in Cleveland to beat the Cavaliers. They're 2-0 against LeBron and 1-2 against Charlotte.
10 (8) (23-21) Still plenty to like about this improving Pistons team, but losing three of four after shellacking the Warriors isn't exactly how momentum works in this league.
11 (10) (24-22) They trailed by eight Sunday against the Mavericks but used a huge second half to top the Mavericks. Trevor Ariza and James Harden combined for 52 points.
12 (14) (25-21) Their last five losses are against Cleveland, OKC, San Antonio, OKC and Houston. Nothing wrong with those L's, but at some point you want to prove you can beat the top contenders.
13 (13) (24-21) It'll be a shame if Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas is left off the East All-Star squad. Meanwhile, Boston has now won five of seven since a four-game skid earlier this month.
14 (16) (20-21)  A tough upcoming slate includes five of the next six against winning-record teams. If they can get through that stretch 3-3 or better they'd take some real momentum into the second half of the season.
15 (11) (23-21) They've now inexplicably lost eight of 10, and during their current four-game slide have averaged 80.3 points. And they're banged up heading to Chicago, where they desperately could use a win.
16 (19) (20-23) DeMarcus Cousins' 48-point outing against Indiana was the highlight of a perfect week for the Kings, who now sit in the No. 8 seed in the West. Rajon Rondo has been a perfect fit, too.
17 (15) (23-21) Though the Pacers are struggling, it's worth noting here that Paul George being named an All-Star starter is great to see after his devastating leg injury two years ago. 
18 (23) (20-26) They may not sneak into the playoffs this year, but Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are a hell of a backcourt tandem for the future. They combined for 66 in a win over the Lakers on Saturday.
19 (17) (22-24) Getting back to .500 with a win over the Jazz was nice; a 28-point home loss to Los Angeles and a 13-point loss in Charlotte to follow it up was not.
20 (24) (16-27) There's the MVP-like Anthony Davis. He won't win it this year, but his averages of 26.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in his last six are the numbers we expected all year. The Pellies have won five of those six.
21 (25) (21-23) What a week for Kemba Walker, who goes for a career-high 52 points on Monday and averages 34.8 points in his four games. Even better, the Hornets went 3-1 in those contests to break their disastrous January skid.
22 (22) (17-27) Their last 13 games have been decided by seven points or less. They're just 5-8 in those games, but they continue to improve under Mike Malone. Will Barton for Sixth Man of the Year?
23 (18) (19-24) They've lost four of five and have been supplanted by Sacramento for the last playoff spot in the West. They desperately need to get back Derrick Favors, who now has missed 16 straight games with back spasms.
24 (21) (19-27) They certainly look better than they did a month ago, but they're still 13th in the East and five games out of the last playoff spot. Will take quite a bit for them to get back in the playoff hunt.
25 (20) (20-22) They've now lost nine of 10, and 12 of their next 14 games come against teams currently with .500 or better win percentages. This thing could get ugly in a hurry.
26 (27) (14-31) It's a shame the Timberwolves haven't been better this season or we'd be talking more about Karl-Anthony Towns, who's averaging 15.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. KAT is ROY.
27 (29) (6-39)  They're 5-9 since Dec. 27. Those five wins are more than the Suns, Bets, Magic, Timberwolves or Lakers have had in that span. Baby steps trying to get out of the NBA's cellar.
28 (26) (12-32) The Nets would be wise to go snag one of Tom Thibodeau or David Blatt for their head coaching vacancy. The personnel may take awhile to turn over, but either would be great at the helm.
29 (30) (14-31) Archie Goodwin's buzzer-beating 3-pointer to top the Hawks stopped a six-game losing streak. Another Kentucky alum, rookie Devin Booker, continues to improve in extended minutes.
30 (28) (6-38) Since that three-game-ray-of-hope win streak the Lakers have lost 10 of 11, including six straight. At least we got to celebrate the anniversary of Kobe's 81-point performance last week.

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.