NBA Power Rankings: Raptors cruising behind East's top backcourt


NBA Power Rankings: Raptors cruising behind East's top backcourt

The East's best backcourt is playing its hottest basketball.

All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have the Raptors on a franchise-record 11-game winning streak and are now just 3.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the top spot in the East.

During that 11-game span, Lowry has averaged 21.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists in 39.1 minutes per game. DeRozan has been just as good, if not better, averaging 24.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in his last 11 games.

Impressively enough, the Raptors are doing this without DeMarre Carroll, who is recovering from knee surgery. Once their defensive stalwart returns the Raptors will be even more dangerous. For now, they simply look like the second best team in their conference, with the best backcourt.

On to the rankings:

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

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (44-4) Beat the Spurs by 30, the Mavericks by 20 and the Sixers by....3? Hey, a win's a win and now they just need to go 29-5 to top the '96 Bulls.
(3) (36-13) Kevin Durant has entered the MVP conversation, and this week he averaged 34.7 points and 11.7 rebounds in three Thunder victories. They've won 10 of 11.
(5) (34-12) Kevin Love seems to like Tyronn Lue's offense. Since David Blatt's firing, Love has averaged 19.2 points on 50 percent shooting and 40 percent 3-point shooting.
4 (2) (39-8) Odd week for the Spurs, who lost by 30 to the Warriors and 14 to the Cavaliers, sandwiched between a 31-point win over the Rockets. Have to drop them for the L's.
5 (4) (32-15) DeMar DeRozan will pair with Kyle Lowry to be the first starting backcourt to play in the All-Star Game in their home city since 1972. Well deserved for both players.
6 (6) (32-16) Lots more responsibility for DeAndre Jordan with Blake Griffin out 4-6 more weeks. His 17-point, 20-rebound performance in a Sunday win over the Bulls was a nice start.
7 (7) (28-20)  Jeff Green was great for the Griz this week, averaging 26.7 points on 63 percent shooting during their 3-0 week. They could really use him to be a consistent third scorer.
8 (13) (27-22) Despite losing a lead in Orlando on Monday, the Celtics have done enough to vault into the top 10. They've maintained their No. 2 defensive efficiency while winning seven of eight.
9 (15) (27-21) Here come the Heat. They're getting healthy and now have won four straight, including victories over the Bulls and Hawks. When healthy, they might be Cleveland's biggest competition in the East.
10 (8) (27-22) Ugly road losses in Indiana and Miami leave questions about where they stand in the East. How much longer will Jeff Teague be in Atlanta?
11 (9) (26-20) Pau Gasol said the Bulls aren't disciplined. He may be right after a 27-point loss to the Clippers. The rest of their West Coast trip could be rough if they don't figure things out.
12 (10) (25-23) They had a chance for a statement-making win twice this week but ended up with narrow losses to the Cavaliers and Raptors. Props to Andre Drummond for earning his first All-Star nod.
13 (12) (28-22)  In his last five games Chandler Parsons has averaged 21.0 points on 53 percent shooting and 6.8 rebounds in, most importantly, 35.2 minutes a night. He changes the Mavs' ceiling when healthy.
14 (11) (25-25) Difficult week against San Antonio, OKC and Washington, and they lost all three. They revert back to .500 and get a red-hot Miami team on Tuesday to avoid dipping below.
15 (17) (25-22) Rookie Myles Turner is the real deal. In his last seven games he's averaged 18.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. Still, the Pacers are 3-4 in those games and are still struggling for consistency.
16 (14) (21-24) About as middling a team in the East as can be. They're just 2.5 games out of the final spot in the East, but get Golden State and Oklahoma City this week. Winning one would be huge.
17 (20) (18-28) Remarkable they've won seven of nine and could make the playoffs. Jrue Holiday averaged 27.7 points and 8.0 assists in a 2-1 week for the Pellies.
18 (23) (21-25) They've won three of four to stop the bleeding and, with Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert back, can make a run at that No. 8 seed against Portland and Sacramento.
19 (16) (20-27) Of course. After we tout them as a contender for a playoff spot they lose four straight and DeMarcus Cousins injures his ankle. Ouch.
20 (18) (23-26) Looking for an All-Star snub? Damian Lillard. Forget the numbers (which are All-Star worthy): The Blazers are currently the No. 8 seed in the West. That's absurd given what they lost in the offseason.
21 (19) (23-27) It was Kristaps Porzingis vs. the Warriors and Madison Square Garden didn't explode. Instead, Zinger had 14 quiet points and the Knicks were blown out.
22 (21) (22-25)  Love seeing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back in the lineup for the Hornets. Even more, love seeing him play well with 13 points in his season debut back from shoulder surgery.
23 (22) (18-30) Gary Harris is quietly putting a string of good games together, averaging 13.2 points on 56 percent shooting in his last five games. He looks like a piece to build on for the future.
24 (24) (20-29) Khris Middleton could have been an All-Star in the East (the Bucks' record didn't help). He's averaging 17.7 points and shooting better than 41 percent from deep.
25 (25) (21-25) A come-from-behind win over the Celtics on Sunday mercifully ended an eight-game losing streak. Aaron Gordon was huge in that win, going for 19 points, 14 rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes.
26 (26) (14-35) The L's continue to pile up, and it's worth remembering here that they were once 4-2, and once 9-12. 5-23 since.
27 (27) (7-41) The Sixers' frantic finish in Saturday's buzzer-beating loss to the Warriors was one of the funnest endings to an NBA game this year. What an upset that would have been. Alas, one step closer to Ben Simmons.
28 (28) (12-36) Brook Lopez went for 31 points and 10 rebounds in a win over the Thunder on Monday. Have to wonder if the Nets consider trading him at this year's deadline.
29 (29) (14-35) Stay hot, Devin Booker. The rookie sharpshooter averaged 17.2 points on 45 percent shooting and 1.8 3-point makes per game in January.
30 (30) (9-41) Ten straight losses for a team entirely stuck in the mud. Kobe's Sunday performance against the Hornets was fun, at least.

Lineup changes could be on the way for Bulls: 'It's still up in the air'


Lineup changes could be on the way for Bulls: 'It's still up in the air'

It’s tough to call the position battle for the backup point guard spot on a Lottery-bound team important, but here we are two days into the Bulls’ season.

It won’t move the needle in NBA circles and Dwane Casey won’t be putting in additional time getting ready for Saturday’s game, but there appears to be potential for change in Fred Hoiberg’s rotation.

One day after an embarrassing display in a season-opening loss to the Sixers, Hoiberg said the Bulls have yet to make a decision on a potential lineup change for tomorrow’s affair against the Detroit Pistons. Kris Dunn, who missed Thursday’s game for the birth of his first child, was not at practice on Friday and may or may not be available for the home opener.

That could prompt changes after Cam Payne, inserted into the starting lineup, was largely ineffective, failing to score on 0 of 4 shooting in 21 minutes.

“We’re gonna see how practice goes today and then make that decision,” Hoiberg said. “It’s still up in the air on what we’re gonna do.”

The loss certainly can’t fall on just Payne, as the Bulls went lifeless after a 41-point first quarter that had them in the lead after 12 minutes. From there the Sixers outscored them by 29 in the second and third quarters, facing little resistance from a Bulls defense that doesn’t appear to have made much improvement from a year ago, Dunn or no Dunn.

Philadelphia shot 48 percent from the field, scored 20 fast-break points and 46 points in the paint, cruising to 102 points through three quarters before reserves finished things off. Even with Dunn the defensive prospects don’t look good, meaning Hoiberg might have to make changes to ignite the offense that scored just 35 points in those second and third quarters.

The Bulls could go a few different routes. Zach LaVine’s hot hand in the first quarter – 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting – saw the ball in his hands, and he even added two assists.

“It's a collective effort. You've got to have all five guys out there trying to play the right way and again, we found a recipe with Zach, especially in that first unit, where we let him bring the ball up the floor,” Hoiberg said. “We ran a couple actions where he was the facilitator and we put Cam in the corner. So a lot of that will be dictated by who has it going on a particular night and last night it happened to be Zach, so he was the one that was doing a lot of facilitating.”

Past a point guard-less lineup, the backups to Payne – Ryan Arcidiacono and Tyler Ulis – could also see extended minutes going forward.

Arcidiacono had 8 points and 8 assists in 28 minutes, though the majority of those stats came in garbage time. Still, he hit a pair of 3-pointers and didn’t turn the ball over, and five of his assists resulted in makes at the rim.

Ulis, acquired off waivers last week, could inject some life into the second unit.

“He’s ready. He’s done a good job in practice,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve gone through the system with him as far as what we expect and if there’s a point in the game where he can go out there and we feel he can help us, I’m confident that he’ll go out there and give us good effort.”

The point guard rotation isn’t the key to unlocking the Bulls as a lockdown defensive team, or no longer suffering the offensive dry spells that happened Thursday. But in a season that’s already showing signs of adversity, shaking up the lineup might be Hoiberg’s only chance.

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Picture yourself at 19 years old.

Maybe you were in college. Maybe you hit the job market early.

What you likely weren’t doing was guarding one the NBA’s best centers in your first professional game.

That was the task charged to Wendell Carter Jr. in the Bulls’ 127-108 loss to the 76ers in the season opener at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday.

Carter Jr. was the seventh overall pick in the NBA draft after just one season at Duke. He earned the start in his NBA debut after an impressive preseason, but nothing could’ve prepared him for going up against Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Carter Jr. said when asked if Embiid was as impressive as he thought he’d be. “He’s a phenomenal player. He’s one of, or the best, big man in the league. Very skilled, very poised. He knows his spots on the court.

“I didn’t go out there with my best effort. It’s just a learning experience for me.”

Carter Jr. had eight points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 20 minutes. He also picked up four fouls, which the rookie attributed to the physicality and craftiness of Embiid.

But he did flash the impressive and varied skill set that made him a high pick and such a coveted prospect. He was also able to garner the praise of the Bulls’ veterans.

“Even though Wendell got in foul trouble he was still playing (Embiid) solid,” Zach LaVine, who scored a team-high 30 points, said. “That’s a tough first game right there. But he didn’t lack for confidence. Made him take some tough shots, but he’s going to make them. He’s that type of player.”

To his credit, Carter Jr. was candid about his performance. He admitted that his emotions ran the gamut from nervous to excited to happy.

In a season that will have its ups and downs as the young Bulls develop and learn, there will likely be more games like this against other elite NBA competition. It’ll be how Carter Jr. responds that will define his career.

“It’s the first game so I don’t want to put too much on myself,” Carter Jr. said. “It would be different if it was like the 50th game or 60th game. It’s the first game. We’re just going to move on from it. We’ve got our home opener on Saturday (vs. the Pistons). That’s where my mind is right now.”

See, he’s learning already.