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NBA Power Rankings: Hornets continue surprising rise

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NBA Power Rankings: Hornets continue surprising rise

Good luck trying to figure out these Charlotte Hornets.

One of the league's best stories in the season's first two months, racing out to a 14-8 start, things went south. Steve Clifford's group dropped 12 of 15 between December and January and appeared on track to miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.

They inched their way back to relevance in January, coming within a game of .500 at 22-23, then 24-25. They finally got back to .500 on Feb. 8 with a home win over the Bulls. And since that time, they've been on fire.

Led by a dominant Kemba Walker, who was named the Eastern Conference player of the week, Charlotte has won 13 of 15 and, after being left for dead, sits tied for 5th in the East and just 1.5 games behind third-seeded Boston.

They're the biggest risers in this week's power rankings. Here's how the other 29 teams fared:

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 | Week 18 | Week 19

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) 59-6  They needed a 37-point fourth quarter to avoid an embarrassing home loss to the Suns on Saturday. As it stands, they'll need a 14-3 finish to top the Bulls' mark. It looks like it'll happen, especially if they beat the Spurs on Saturday.
(2) 56-10  Impressive home wins against the Bulls and Thunder to close the week give them a 32-0 record at the AT&T Center. Saturday night's showdown there against the Warriors could be an instant classic (and they play twice more after that).
(3) 47-18  There are days you wonder whether they'll even make it out of the East (Monday's loss to Memphis). Then there are days you wonder if they really can compete with Golden State in a seven-game series (24-point road win over the Clips).
4 (4) 44-20  DeMar DeRozan was an absolute monster Saturday night in Toronto's overtime win against the Heat. He went for a season-high 38 points and grabbed 10 boards, keeping Toronto within reaching distance of Cleveland for the No. 1 seed.
5 (5) 44-22  Incredibly they've now lost six of nine, the worst of those coming Saturday at home to the Timberwolves. There's time to right the ship, and they'll need to do so to stay in the No. 3 spot (and avoid the Warriors in Round 2).
6 (6)   42-23  Sunday's matchup against the Cavs would have been a chance to make a statement. A 24-point loss later, the next chance they'll have to do just that is Tuesday in San Antonio.
7 (9)   38-29  They've now won seven of their last nine and are in the race for the No. 3 seed in the East. Their only two losses in that span were at Golden State and at Toronto. And both were single-digit defeats. Al Horford and Co. are heating up at the right time.
8 (7)   38-28  Can't say enough about how much Joe Johnson has helped the Bosh-less Heat offense. In eight games Johnson is averaging 15.5 points on 57 percent shooting. Miami has won six of eight in that span.
9 (8)   39-27  It'll be on Brad Stevens to figure out his rotation in the wake of Jae Crowder's sprained ankle that'll keep him out two weeks. Boston is clinging to a one-game lead on the No. 3 seed over Miami.
10 (12)   37-28  The Hornets have won seven in a row. In those games, Kemba Walker has averaged Curry-like numbers: 28.6 points, 53% FG, 3.6 3-pointers, 6.9 assists. Charlotte looks like a lock for the postseason after being left for dead two months ago.
11 (11)   39-27  It's incredible they've been able to piece parts together and remain in the playoff hunt without a host of key players. They're 9-5 since Marc Gasol was lost for the season with a broken foot.
12 (10)   35-32  It would have been nice to see them put up more of a fight in Golden State (16-point loss). But they responded nicely Saturday, thumping the Magic by 37 points. The Blazers hit 17 triples in that one, two days after connecting on 18 triples against the Dubs.
13 (13)   35-31  Indiana took a big step forward toward making the postseason with an impressive win over the Spurs on Monday. Monta Ellis and Paul George combined for 49 points in that one. Three more tests this week, hosting Boston, Toronto and Oklahoma City.
14 (15)   34-32  The time is now for Detroit to make their move. After a road tilt in Washington, D.C., on Monday they'll play nine straight at home. If they want to hang on to that No. 8 seed, it'll happen based on what happens in March.
15 (17)   33-33 Before running into the buzzsaw that is the Charlotte Hornets, James Harden and the Rockets picked up impressive road wins against the Raptors and Celtics. They're currently tied with Dallas for seventh in the West, two games up on Utah.
16 (16)   32-32 Playoff odds are looking bleaker for the Bulls, who are now dealing with injuries to Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol just as Jimmy Butler returns to the lineup. They're only one game back of the Pistons for the No. 8 seed, but Detroit owns the tiebreaker.
17 (20)    31-35 They stopped the bleeding with wins over the Wizards and Kings, but they've still got plenty of work to do if they're going to catch the Mavericks or Rockets.
18 (21)    29-38 More Giannis Antetokounmpo love. In his last 11 games he's logged four triple-doubles, averaging 20.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.9 blocks per game in 38.5 minutes. He just turned 21 years old.
19 (14)   33-33  A head-scratching five-game losing streak has them on the verge of dropping out of the playoff chase. And now they get a red-hot Hornets team, followed by Cleveland, Golden State, Portland at home, Portland on the road and Golden State again. Yikes.
20 (24)   28-38  They've won four straight, tying the Warriors (yes, those Warriors) for the longest current winning streak in the West. Emmanuel Mudiay has really turned a corner in his rookie season, averaging 19.7 points and 5.7 assists in his last six games.
21 (18)   30-35  John Wall is quietly putting up MVP numbers. But it may be too little, too late for the Wizards, who have now lost five straight and are 3.5 games out of the No. 8 seed in the East. One of the conference's biggest disappointments.
22 (22)   28-37  With the playoffs now out of reach, might be time for Scott Skiles to really unleash rookie Mario Hezonja. He's averaging 23.1 minutes per game in March in a crowded Magic backcourt. #FreeSuperMario.
23 (23)   24-41  Don't tell Anthony Davis to coast down the stretch for a lottery-bound team. In his last four games he's averaged 31.3 points and 11.8 rebounds. Of course, the injury-ravaged Pelicans are 1-3 in those games.
24 (19)   25-40  The Kings have imploded. They've lost nine of 10, DeMarcus Cousins was suspended for screaming at George Karl in a huddle and are 7.5 games out of the No. 8 seed in the West. Just a dysfunctional organization from the top down.
25 (26)   21-45  Ricky Rubio's triple with 0.2 seconds remaining won it for the Wolves in Oklahoma City. But the real story was Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds, including two key buckets and a huge block on KD in the final minute.
26 (25)   28-40  Probably not a majority opinion, but if the Knicks heed Carmelo Anthony's advice and make a significant move in free agency they aren't that far away from competing in the East.
27 (27) 18-48  In a lost season, the Nets may have found something in Sean Kilpatrick. The former Cincinnati Bearcat has played well, averaging 13.6 points and 2.0 triples in his last five games. The former All-American has always been able to score.
28 (29) 14-53  The young Lakers are looking better each night. Julius Randle has averaged 15.1 points on 50 percent shooting and 9.9 rebounds in his last eight games. He's rounded into form nicely after a quiet first half.
29 (30) 17-49  Not much to play for in Phoenix, but it'll be fun to watch Devin Booker and Brandon Knight work together in the Suns' backcourt. On Saturday they combined for 48 points and 18 assists in a near-win over the Warriors.
30 (28) 9-57  A six-point win over the Nets at home isn't usually anything to write about. But it marked the Sixers' first win since Feb. 6 and snapped a 13-game losing streak. Congrats. Almost up to double-digit W's.

We've officially found the biggest Michael Jordan fan ever

We've officially found the biggest Michael Jordan fan ever

There are diehard Michael Jordan fans.

And then there's this guy.

Forget anybody getting a tattoo of their favorite team's championship trophy. Forget the people who wait for hours in terrible weather just to catch a glimpse of their favorite player.

This dude has a constant, 24/7 reminder of "His Airness":

Yep, that is a full tattoo of a Jordan "23" jersey on his back, complete with a Michael Jordan "autograph" in the middle of the "2." 

Dedication at its finest.

Couple questions: 

A) Does it carry over to the front at all? And if not, is that a plan for the future?

2) Will one of his buddies get a "45" Jordan jersey tattoo or are we just gonna continue to pretend that era never happened?

D) What will that tat look like in a few years? That guy better stay away from the Doritos...

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

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AP

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.