Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Eastern Conference reigning supreme?

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NBA Power Rankings: Eastern Conference reigning supreme?

The West has long been considered the better of the two conferences, so much so that there was conversation about moving away from conferences as a whole in order to get the 16 best teams in the postseason.

It had credence, too, as the 40-42 Boston Celtics and 38-44 Brooklyn Nets made the playoffs in the East while the 45-37 Oklahoma City Thunder missed out on the postseason in the West last season. In 2014, Phoenix won 48 games as the No. 9 seed in the West, while in the East the 38-win Hawks earned a postseason berth.

But there's been a temporary shift in conference supremacy, at least in the early going. The Eastern Conference owns a 37-32 record against the West through four weeks, with 11 of the 15 teams in the East holding a .500 or better record against the West.

Seven teams in the West are at .500 or better, while 11 teams in the East fall under that category. It's still early, and the West still has 15-0 Golden State, but the East may not be little brother for much longer.

On to the power rankings.

Previous power rankings: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (15-0) When they beat the Lakers on Tuesday they'll be the first team in NBA history to begin a season 16-0. Not much else to say.
(2) (10-3) Mo Williams (15.5 points, 5.3 assists, 47.7% from the field) has been huge for the Cavs. Also, Kyrie Irving appears close to a return.
(3) (10-3)  Four of their top five scorers are shooting 50 percent or better from the field (Leonard, Duncan, Parker, Ginobili). 
4 (5) (8-4)  The NBA's second most efficient defense through four weeks. Last season they were 19th. Hassan Whiteside (4.8 bpg) is the real deal.
5 (7) (8-4)  Taking the Warriors to the wire without Derrick Rose was a promising performance. Jimmy Butler is quickly rounding into form.
6 (9) (8-6)  Even without Kevin Durant they're turning in stellar performances, like Sunday's win over the Mavericks.
7 (9) (9-5)  The No. 10 defense and No. 11 offense has meant wins in six of their last seven. Dirk is shooting .532/.533/.912 at 37 years old.
8 (6) (9-6)  They'll have to make due without Jonas Valanciunas, who will miss six weeks after breaking his hand.
9 (10) (8-5)  Nine of their next 11 are against teams currently in the playoffs if the season ended today. We'll learn a lot about them the next two weeks.
10 (8) (9-6)  They're better than they've shown of late, losing four of five. Still, Saturday's loss to the shorthanded Cavaliers was real ugly.
11 (13) (6-4)  Otto Porter has stepped up in a big way this season, averaging 13.9 points on 52 percent shooting in a starting role.
12 (15) (7-6)  Brad Stevens has his team playing phenomenal defense while also playing at the league's third fastest pace offensively. Great combo.
13 (17) (7-6)  Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe might be the West's best backcourt not nicknamed the Splash Brothers.
14 (11) (6-7)  Losers in seven of nine, including a Sunday game in which they were down 29 to the Raptors at halftime. What's going on in L.A.?
15 (12) (7-6)  Derrick Favors has been great all year. The 24-year-old is averaging 16.1 points on 54 percent shooting and 9.2 rebounds.
16 (16) (7-6)  They could be higher after picking up an impressive home win over the Cavs last week. A nice pick-me-up after losing four straight on the road.
17 (21) (8-6)  Winners in four straight, we have to talk about Kristaps Porzingis again. The rookie went for 24, 14 and 7 blocks in a road win over Houston.
18 (18) (7-6)  The league's three most efficient offenses? Golden State, Oklahoma City, Cleveland. No. 4? Charlotte. Seriously.
19 (19) (7-7)  Perhaps it's coincidence, but Mario Chalmers' arrival has coincided with the Grizzlies winning four of their last five games.
20 (14) (5-9)  Firing Kevin McHale didn't change anything. They needed OT at home against Portland to pick up their lone win of the week.
21 (20) (6-7) The defense has been there, but the Magic are still tied for 27th in offensive efficiency.
22 (25) (6-9)  Damian Lillard has been everything we thought he'd be in a lead role, averaging 25.2 points and 6.7 assists this season.
23 (23) (6-8) Three straight losses, and five of their next six are against playoff teams from a year ago. More growing pains coming in Colorado.
24 (26) (5-9) Great to see the old Rajon Rondo again. He's averaging 13.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 13.4 assists in his last eight games.
25 (26) (5-8)  You see all the pieces starting to come together, like in last weeks' 12-point road win in Miami.
26 (22) (5-8)  The East's biggest disappointment, and it's not close. Think they'd like to have Brandon Knight right about now?
27 (28) (3-11)  Baby steps. Back-to-back wins against the Spurs and Suns, and the Pellies are now No. 9 in offensive efficiency.
28 (29) (3-11)  Not too many more underrated players than Thaddeus Young. He's averaging 15.6 points on 53 percent shooting and 8.2 rebounds.
29 (27) (2-11)  Lou Williams' follow-up act to his Sixth Man of the Year Award? 12.3 points on 33 percent shooting, and just 23.5 percent from deep. Yuck.
30 (30) (0-14)  Things aren't getting any better. And they play five of their next six on the road. Ben Simmons may not even be able to save this franchise.

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.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”