Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: The league's other best team

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NBA Power Rankings: The league's other best team

The Golden State Warriors have rightfully hogged headlines this season. That'll happen when you're setting NBA records left and right before the calendar flips to the new year.

But just below Steph Curry's 26-1 team in the Western Conference standings are the San Antonio Spurs. At 23-5, winners of five straight and nine of 10, and a point differential (+13.2) nearly as good as Golden State's (+13.4), Greg Popovich's group is the best team in the NBA that doesn't play its home games in Oakland.

Kawhi Leonard has been nothing short of magnificent, averaging 21.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists on 50.9/49.0/88.0 shooting, while also adding two steals and nearly a block per game. LaMarcus Aldridge has shaken off a slow start and is up to 16.1 points per game, while Tony Parker has had a bounceback year to the tune of shooting nearly 56 percent from the field.

The Spurs are up to No. 3 in offensive efficiency and they lead the NBA in defensive efficiency by nearly five points per 100 possessions (in layman's terms, by A LOT).

What Golden State is doing has been historic. But don't forget about the NBA's other best team.

On to the rankings:

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

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (26-1) Friday can't come soon enough. Yes, it's Christmas Day, but it's also a rematch of last year's NBA Finals. The most highly anticipated regular season game in awhile.
(2) (23-5) Kawhi Leonard is rising in the MVP race for players not named Stephen Curry. He's been an absolute monster of efficiency this season. And as always, he's somehow done it quietly.
(4) (18-7) Dating back to last January, the Cavaliers are now 34-3 with LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in the lineup. With Irving back, the East is clearly theirs to lose.
4 (3) (18-9) They've won seven of eight but missed a golden opportunity to take down the Cavaliers before Kyrie Irving returned. A few offensive droughts did them in in Thursday's loss.
5 (8) (16-10) Hassan Whiteside was outstanding down the stretch Sunday against the Blazers, finishing with 22 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.
6 (6) (16-10) The Pacers need to get Monta Ellis (12.2 points, 42.1% shooting, 4.5 assists) going at some point. Paul George and C.J. Miles can only shoot 3-pointers for so long.
7 (5) (17-12) Like many in this range, tough to tell where the Raptors stand after double-digit losses to Indiana, Charlotte and Sacramento....and a double-digit road win over Miami.
8 (14) (17-12) The offense is coming around in a hurry, as Mike Budenholzer's group averaged 113.0 points in three straight wins this week, including 109 against the pesky Celtics.
9 (11) (16-12) Still tough to figure out where the Clippers stand among contenders after road losses to San Antonio and Houston. Monday against Oklahoma City should give us a clearer picture.
10 (16) (16-12) Wins over Indiana, Boston and Chicago in their last four games, and they'll get Brandon Jennings back this week. Detroit is on the rise.
11 (7) (15-10) As our Vincent Goodwill wrote on Sunday, all eyes will be on Jimmy Butler after he stepped up and called out Fred Hoiberg following the Bulls' second straight loss.
12 (9) (14-13) They couldn't parlay momentum from nearly topping the Warriors and then beating Charlotte, losing three straight to East contenders in Cleveland, Detroit and Atlanta.
13 (12) (15-12) Chandler Parsons seems close to shedding his minute restriction, which should change the dynamic of the Mavericks. Big home win over the Grizzlies on Saturday.
14 (17) (15-12) Somehow, some way, the Magic are all the way up to No. 6 in defensive efficiency. A blowout win over Charlotte was particularly impressive (and surprising).
15 (10) (15-11) A solid win over the Raptors was the lone positive from a week that included losses to Orlando and Washington. They had a chance to push ahead in the East.
16 (23) (14-14) Kristaps Porzingis is one of four players averaging 13 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. The others? Anthony Davis, Pau Gasol and Karl-Anthony Towns. Good company.
17 (15) (15-14) Call it a positive going 2-2 against that schedule (WAS, at CHI, at DAL, IND). Zach Randolph is averaging just 8.6 points and 6.2 rebounds since his move to the bench.
18 (12) (14-14) Watching vintage Dwight Howard above the rim in a win over the Clippers (22 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks) was fun to watch. Can it spark Houston going forward?
19 (21) (11-14) John Wall quietly putting up career-high numbers in points (19.9), field goal percentage (44.5%) and steals (2.1). The Wizards have work to do to get back in the playoff hunt.
20 (20) (11-18) Michael Carter-Williams is averaging 17.0 points on 50 percent shooting and 6.3 assists in his last seven games. And they had the Warriors on the ropes in Oracle.
21 (18) (12-17) Brandon Knight's revenge game against the Bucks on Sunday? Nine points on 3-for-10 shooting, and the Bucks earned a 101-95 road victory.
22 (22) (8-19) Baby steps for Anthony Davis and Co., who have won two of three and may be trending in the right direction as their collective health improves.
23 (19) (11-14) We write about it every week, but the defensive drop-off without Rudy Gobert continues. They're now down to 18th in efficiency after being top-3 with Gobert.
24 (26) (11-16) The Kings picked up their best win of the season Sunday night, with all five starters in double figures in a 104-94 road win over the Raptors.
25 (24) (11-18) The Blazers blew a 10-point halftime lead in Miami to close out a difficult road stretch. They play two more on the road (ATL, NOLA) before hosting the Cavs.
26 (25) (11-16) Ricky Rubio has averaged 10.2 assists in his last nine games, and nearly had a quadruple-double Wednesday against the Knicks (9/10/12/8 steals).
27 (27) (11-16) It's tough for the league's 24th ranked offense to score 125 points and lose, but that's what the Nuggets did Sunday against the Pelicans.
28 (28) (7-20) The league's longest non-Sixers losing streak (L5), the Nets hung with Miami and Indiana this week but couldn't pull off either upset.
29 (29) (4-23) A resurgent Kobe Bryant is shooting 49 percent in his last six games, averaging 18.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
30 (30) (1-28) During their 10-game losing streak, the Sixers have been outscored by an average of 108.6 to 82.0. Good luck, Mike D'Antoni.

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.