Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Hawks starting to put it together

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NBA Power Rankings: Hawks starting to put it together

Exactly two weeks ago the Atlanta Hawks sat at 14-12, having just lost their third straight game by 10+ points.

It was difficult to peg where Mike Budenholzer's group stood in the East, considering they had wins over Miami, Boston, Oklahoma City and Dallas but had also lost to Minnesota (twice) and Brooklyn.

They also had failed tests against the Cavaliers (12-point loss), Raptors (10-point loss) and Heat (12-point loss), leaving them in the middle of the pack in a crowded Eastern Conference.

But since then, the Hawks have righted the ship. They've won a league-best six straight games, scoring 100 or more points in each, and have moved within a single game of the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

In that span they've had the league's most efficient offense (112.0) and seventh most efficient defense (99.4), and have topped Boston (on the road), Orlando (on the road) and Detroit at home to get back on track.

And it hasn't been one player doing the damage. Paul Millsap is leading the team during this stretch with 17.7 points, but Al Horford (15.3), Jeff Teague (15.2), Dennis Schroder (14.0) and Mike Scott (10.7) are all close behind. Each of those players are shooting at least 48 percent from the field in the last six and all but Scott are averaging at least three assists per game.

They won't top 60 wins like they did a year ago, but when the Hawks have the ball moving they're a lethal offense.

On to the rankings:

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

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (28-1) They need to finish the season 45-8 to break the all-time single-season record for wins. The mountain doesn't seem that steep anymore for Steph and Co.
(2) (26-6) If not for the other-worldly Warriors, we'd be talking much more about the Spurs, who moved to 17-0 at home and now have won 26 straight in San Antonio.
(4) (21-10) They laid a Christmas Day egg against the Bulls, but their 22-0 run to start the third quarter against the Lakers was a sight to behold. When they're on, they're ON.
4 (8) (20-12) Owners of the league's current longest win streak, the Hawks have climbed back to within a single game of the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
5 (3) (19-9) Two losses on the opposite ends of the spectrum: a six-point loss at Golden State in which they had a chance at the end, followed by a 29-point loss in Portland in which they trailed by 22 after a quarter.
6 (7) (19-12) They go 11-6 without Jonas Valanciunas, who will return Monday. Bismack Biyombo was huge in his absence, averaging 6.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in that span for the Raptors.
7 (5) (18-11) After dropping a winnable home game to the Pistons they respond with wins against the Pelicans and Magic (on the road) on back-to-back nights. Just a perfectly rounded team.
8 (12) (18-13) That's how you respond. After losing four of five they win four straight, including big road victories over the Hornets and Pistons. They could run the streak to seven with the Lakers and Nets (twice) up next.
9 (9) (18-13) They passed their first test without Blake Griffin by slipping past the struggling Jazz. Bigger tests await. Chris Paul will be needed in an even bigger role.
10 (6) (17-12) Paul George is shooting under 37 percent in 13 December games after earning the East's Player of the Month honors in November. They're getting nothing from their backcourt, too.
11 (13) (17-13) Left for dead when DeAndre Jordan flip-flopped to the Clippers, the Mavericks are now fifth in the West. JJ Barea has filled in superbly with Deron Williams battling a hamstring injury.
12 (10) (17-14) They had three tests this week and went 1-2, beating the Heat on the road before dropping contests in Atlanta and against Boston. Still plenty to like about Andre Drummond and Co.
13 (11) (16-12) It's a fairly safe bet that the Bulls will be the only team in the NBA to lose to the Nets at home and beat the Thunder on the road. Let alone doing so in a four-day span.
14 (14) (17-13) Nikola Vucevic is making quite the All-Star case in Orlando. The big man is averaging 16.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.0 blocks for the Magic, ranked No. 8 in the East.
15 (19) (14-14) John Wall's continued efforts have the Wizards back to .500 for the first time since Nov. 25. Their January schedule is a nightmare, so let's see if they can keep that .500 pace.
16 (18) (16-16) It wasn't pretty, but a victory over the Spurs is noteworthy regardless of how it happens. It's still tough to pinpoint this Rockets team, however, which lost to New Orleans two days later.
17 (15) (16-13) They had lost five of six before rallying to beat the Grizzlies to end the week. Kemba Walker is quietly shooting a career-best 43.5% from the field through 29 games. Not great, but still a career-best.
18 (17) (17-16) They were close to road wins in Washington and Charlotte but couldn't eke out either. Tuesday's game against the Heat will be a battle of two of the league's best defenses.
19 (20) (12-19) Yes, it's true. The Milwaukee Bucks, owners of the No. 5 seed in the East last season, have the conference's third worst record. They're 2-4 since beating the Warriors. So much for momentum.
20 (24) (12-17) The most impressive week of the non-contenders, with victories at Toronto and Indiana. Rajon Rondo compiled 32 points and 29 assists in those two games. Yeah.
21 (22) (10-20) Winners in four of their last six and they're now only three games out of the No. 8 seed in the West. Still plenty of of work to be done, but the arrow it pointing up.
22 (16) (14-18) Since Nov. 15 they've gone W4, L4, W2, L4, W4, L4. Their next six opponents (DET, CHI, ATL, ATL, MIA, SAS) mean a win streak isn't likely to follow their latest slide.
23 (25) (13-20) C.J. McCollum has put the Blazers on his back (doe) with Damian Lillard out. He went for 35 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in a road win over Sacramento on Sunday night.
24 (23) (12-16) Things go from bad to worse now that Alec Burks will miss six weeks with a broken leg. So much for being this year's breakout team in the West. They need Rudy Gobert back in a hurry.
25 (23) (12-19) They've now lost five of their last six after winning five of six, and Emmanuel Mudiay's lingering ankle issue isn't a sign of better things to come in the short-term future.
26 (21) (12-20) When you hand the Sixers their first road victory in their last 23 tries, and your star point guard is out indefinitely with a knee injury, you drop this far in the rankings.
27 (26) (11-19) They really look better than their record indicates, and double-digit losses to the Celtics, Spurs and Pacers were to be expected. Karl-Anthony Towns may have ROY wrapped up by the All-Star break.
28 (28) (8-22) It's that time of the year when we begin pondering what type of value for the future players like Thaddeus Young or Brook Lopez could bring in a trade. The Nets have lost six straight at home.
29 (29) (5-26) The Lakers now own the league's worst defensive efficiency and second worst offensive efficiency. Byron Scott's days in L.A. are numbered.
30 (30) (2-30) Ish Smith arrives with the Sixers and they earn their second victory of the season. He's no savior, but he gives stability at the point guard position for a team needing plenty of it.

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.