NBA Power Rankings: Here come the Thunder


NBA Power Rankings: Here come the Thunder

Kevin Durant returned from a hamstring this week, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

The Thunder were 8-6 but had lost three of their last five, including a home contest to the Knicks. Russell Westbrook had been doing Russell Westbrook things, but it was evident they needed the former MVP back in the lineup.

The results? A 22-point road win over Utah, an 11-point win against Brooklyn and a commanding 16-point win against the Pistons. Durant averaged 30.3 points in those games, while Westbrook shot 50 percent from the field. It's got Oklahoma City at 11-6 and rising in this week's power rankings. Here's how Week 5 shook out:

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

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (18-0) A seven-game road trip includes stops in Toronto and Indiana. Whether they return home with a loss, they won't be moving from the top spot anytime soon.
(3) (14-3) Winners in nine of 10, Saturday's 20-point road shellacking of the Hawks was particularly impressive. Tim Duncan had 18 boards in that one. He's 39.
(2) (13-4)  Kevin Love is playing like an All-Star again, making 2.8 triples per game at a nearly 41 percent clip.
4 (6) (11-6)  Wins of 22, 11 and 16 this week, with KD averaging 30.3 points on 59 percent shooting in those games since returning to the lineup.
5 (9) (11-5)  Wins over Washington and Chicago were statement makers. That 0-3 start seems like forever ago for the East's best 3-point shooting team.
6 (8) (11-7)  After finishing a five-game road trip they come home and beat the Cavaliers. Kyle Lowry should start his second straight All-Star game.
7 (4) (10-5)  Huge stretch coming up. Their next 8 games:BOS, OKC, CLE, WAS, at CHA, at IND, MEM, at ATL. They've looked the part of East contender thus far.
8 (5) (9-5)  Fred Hoiberg's group is 27th in offensive efficiency, better only than the Nets, Lakers and Sixers. Paging Derrick Rose. Yeesh.
9 (7)   (10-7)   It would have been nice to have seen them win one of their road tests against Oklahoma City, Memphis and San Antonio.
10 (18)   (10-7)   Perhaps a tad bit high, but there's something really fun about watching this offense. They've now won six of eight and almost topped Cleveland.
11 (10)   (11-8)  A 2-2 week featured some good (win at Memphis), some bad (loss at Minnesota) and downright ugly (20-point road loss to San Antonio).
12 (19)   (10-8)   Winners in seven of the last name with Mike Conley doing the heavy lifting. He's averaging 18.9 points and 6.9 assists in that span.
13 (12)   (9-8)   Avery Bradley is on a tear, averaging 19.7 points on 50 percent shooting in his last seven games.
14 (14)   (9-8)   Once they figure out the small forward carousel they'll be fine. Not too worried about their record at this point.
15 (21)   (9-8)   They're still far behind the real contenders in the East, but Scott Skiles is building something in Orlando. A 19-point win against Boston was an eye opener.
16 (13)   (8-9)  Buzzsaw of a schedule meant losses were coming, but a bright spot of late has been T.J. Warren. He went for a career-high 28 points in a loss to the Warriors.
17 (15)   (8-5)  Derrick Favors is 12th in the NBA in PER, sandwiched between James Harden and Andre Drummond. Good company.
18 (11)   (9-8)  The Wiz go as John Wall goes, and the point guard has averaged just 5.5 assists and shot 33 percent in his last four games. The Wiz are 0-4 in that span.
19 (25)   (8-9)   A confidence building win over the Hawks was the highlight of a stellar 3-1 week. Andrew Wiggins is getting better by the day.
20 (20)   (7-10)   Needed a 50-spot from James Harden to squeak past the Sixers, and needed overtime to beat the Knicks. 
21 (16)   (8-9)  Another roller coaster week for SVG's group, which beat the Heat by 23 and lost to the Nets four days later. 4-9 since a 4-0 start.
22 (22)   (7-10)  It's a testament to Terry Stotts that the Blazers are ninth in offensive efficiency considering what they lost in the offseason.
23 (17)   (8-10)  Four straight losses after that inspiring 8-6 start. The good news is they get Philly, Brooklyn and Milwaukee this week.
24 (24) (6-12) DeMarcus Cousins is up to 27.9 points (3rd in NBA) and 11.2 rebounds (5th in NBA). Superstar. No debate about his All-Star candidacy this year.
25 (26) (6-11)  They follow up a blowout win over the Pistons with double-digit losses to the Kings and Magic, and then to the Hornets. Things aren't getting better.
26 (27) (4-13)  Ish Smith has been great as the Pellies bring back Jrue Holiday slowly. Smith is fourth in the NBA in assists per game (8.1).
27 (23) (6-11)  That daunting schedule produced all losses, and now they're on the road for their next four. Danilo Gallinari (17.7 points) is still ballin'.
28 (28) (4-13)  Defensive stud Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has averaged 8.6 rebounds and 2.6 steals in his last five games. The rookie is showing real potential.
29 (29) (2-14)  D'Angelo Russell is starting to come around, averaging 12.8 points and 3.3 assists in his last six games. But all those numbers came in losses.
30 (30) (0-17)  Nerlens Noel has regressed in his second year, shooting just 41 percent and committing 3.3 turnovers per game. His blocks (1.1 per game) are down, too.

Bulls will try to slow down Mavericks' dynamic young backcourt


Bulls will try to slow down Mavericks' dynamic young backcourt

Through the opening four weeks of the NBA season, Dallas swingman Luka Doncic has emerged as one of the early favorites for the Rookie of the Year award. The 19-year-old from Slovenia is averaging 20.8 points on .489 shooting from the field and .395 from the 3 point line, along with 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

We’ve been hearing about Doncic for a number of years because of his sensational play in the European leagues, but some scouts questioned whether his lack of elite athleticism would limit his ability to excel at the NBA level.

So far, Doncic has silenced all the doubters with his innate feel for the game and the joy and flair he exhibits on the court. Paired with high-flying second year guard Dennis Smith Jr., Doncic is giving basketball fans in Dallas hope for the future despite the team’s current 4-8 record.

The Mavs beat the Bulls in the third game of the season in Dallas, 115-109, led by 19 points and 6 assists from Doncic and 18 points and 16 rebounds from veteran center DeAndre Jordan. The Bulls got outrebounded 41-34 and fueled the Mavs’ transition game with 19 turnovers that led to 27 points for the home team.

Monday’s rematch could be even tougher since Dallas will have the services of talented small forward Harrison Barnes. Barnes, who missed last month’s game because of injury, is averaging 14.5 points and five rebounds a game.

Even though he’s only shooting .377 from the field right now, Barnes' presence gives the Mavericks another three-point shooting threat on a team that lives and dies on its proficiency behind the arc. Dallas currently is tied for fifth in the NBA with 33.9 three point attempts per game.

Wesley Matthews scored 20 points in the first meeting between the two teams and veteran guard J. J. Barea always seems to comes up with big games against the Bulls. Barea is coming off a 21 point performance against Oklahoma City Saturday where he knocked down three of four attempts from three-point range.

So, what will it take for the Bulls to earn a split in the season series Monday night?

1. DEFEND THE THREE-POINT LINE Like so many teams in the modern NBA, the Mavs won’t get discouraged by early misses from long range. They’ll keep jacking up threes throughout the game, with everyone on the roster except DeAndre Jordan given the green light. Doncic, Matthews, Barnes and Smith Jr. are all capable of big nights from three-point land, as are Barea, Maxi Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith off the bench.

2. LIMIT TURNOVERS  Dallas wants to play at a fast pace with their young guards making plays in transition, so careless turnovers will make the Mavericks even more dangerous in the open court. Inserting Ryan Arcidiacono into the starting lineup improved the Bulls offensive efficiency early in their win over Cleveland on Saturday, but the challenge now is sustaining that efficiency over four quarters.

Shaq Harrison also gave the Bulls quality minutes at the point guard position against the Cavs, and he’ll use his size and aggressiveness to put some defensive pressure on the Mavs’ guards.

3. ANOTHER BIG NIGHT FOR ZACH  LaVine poured in 34 points in a losing effort in Dallas last month, and he’ll have a big advantage in quickness against either Doncic or Matthews. Dallas might go with Barnes on LaVine at times to challenge Zach’s outside shooting, but that might open up more opportunities to drive to the rim, where Jordan will be waiting.

LaVine has been very successful so far in challenging opposing centers on drives, and even though Jordan is an excellent shot blocker, don’t expect the NBA’s fourth leading scorer to back down.

With match-ups against Eastern Conference heavyweights Boston, Milwaukee and Toronto coming up, you know the Bulls would love to come away with a win over Dallas on Monday night.

We’ll have the game for you on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app, starting with Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium at 6:30. Neil Funk and Stacey King will have the play by play call at 7, followed by Bulls Postgame Live and Bulls Outsiders.

We hope you make your plans to join us Monday night.

Bulls practice notes: Wendell Carter Jr. looks up stats differently

Bulls practice notes: Wendell Carter Jr. looks up stats differently

The Bulls got a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday. Here are my thoughts from practice on Sunday.

1. Winning Sunday

Following the Bulls 99-98 win over the Cavs, there was an upbeat vibe on Sunday as guys hit the hardwood laughing, joking around and putting up shots. Then it was off to watch film and back to business. It was two weeks ago in that film room where this team had its ugliest and hardest session of the season… watching the Warriors dismantle them time and time again.

But, since then, the Bulls have actually made big strides defensively, ranking sixth in the league since that blowout. While they’ve gone 2-4 over that stretch, you could argue the losses were all close and coach Fred Hoiberg believes that’s progress.

“Since that night, guys have really bought in to film sessions. They’re coming out on the court and trying to correct things where we were making consistent mistakes. We’re still not there 100 percent, we’re still making [mistakes], but we’re making less of them and that’s a good sign," Hoiberg said. "If we can get the rebounding to where we need it and finish off possessions that’s what will really take us to the next level.”

2. Carter relishes his role as the defensive anchor

Meeting the media with a big grin Sunday, Wendell Carter Jr. joked that he didn’t mind our questions getting him out of some of the team’s film session. Don’t worry Bulls fans, Wendell is a quick study with an extremely high basketball IQ.

“He’s a smart kid. If he does make a mistake, you only have to tell him once and he won’t make it again,” Hoiberg said.

I mention the grin, but the rookie has a lot to be smiling about as he continues to turn heads in this league. He’s averaging nearly 12 points, 8 rebounds and over 2 assists and 2 blocks a game. WCJ joked he was robbed of a fourth swat against the Cavs near the end of the game, but the one everyone wanted to talk about came in the opening quarter where he came from the weak side and blocked Jordan Clarkson.

“It all depends on who I’m guarding, the personnel. For Clarkson I knew he wanted to get a shot up. So, I knew he wasn’t going to pass the ball, so I knew that was the perfect opportunity for me to come over for help-side defense," Carter said. "I just kind of do whatever I can to help the team win and I feel like being a defensive anchor right now is something I have to do just to help this team win.” 

3. Gen Z looks up stats differently

Speaking of Wendell Carter Jr., the 19 year old said the three stats he pays attention to when evaluating his game are: Plus-minus, rebounds, and blocked shots. But don’t expect the Gen Z, Duke stud to look those up in a box score. Nope, he’ll just scroll through his IG page, duh. (@wendellcarterjr)

“I’m seeing them on Instagram and on Twitter, but I don’t really try to look for them," Carter said. "I’m not going to lie. After the games I don’t really try to pay attention to my stats, but if I’m scrolling through my Instagram I’ll probably see them at some point. I’m not going to just scroll past them and pretend like I don’t see them. I’m going to look at them.”