Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: The Warriors can't be stopped

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NBA Power Rankings: The Warriors can't be stopped

Yes, it's repetitive at this point and you've seen it everywhere. But it will bear repeating until they slow down (if they ever do): The Warriors are ridiculous.

Sunday night they squared off against the Brooklyn Nets on the road and found themselves down five late in the third quarter. It was then that Steph Curry hit the switch, scoring 10 of the Warriors' 17 points in the final 3 minutes to take a seven-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. A 17-5 run in an instant, and they opened the final stanza scoring 22 of the first 31 points and led by 20 in what became yet another laugher, moving them to 22-0 on the year.

If the Pacers can't knock them off Monday, there's a good chance they'll be 28-0 when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas Day.

The Bulls' mark of 72 wins now seems well within their reach. No one should feel safe playing the defending champs. We're watching history.

On to the rankings:

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

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (22-0) If they get past Indiana on Monday they're looking at being 28-0 on Christmas Day against the Cavs. Us NBA fans are spoiled right now.
(2) (17-4) Kawhi Leonard has posted a career-high in both usage rate and true shooting percentage. That's downright impressive.
(7) (13-4)  Their defense hasn't dropped off in the slightest. Once Goran Dragic gets going the Heat will be downright scary. A credit to Erik Spoelstra.
4 (5) (12-7) He won't win it, but Paul George has a serious case as the NBA's Most Improved Player again. Averaging 27.6 points and 8.2 rebounds.
5 (3) (13-7)  They've now lost three straight as no Kyrie and Shumpert appears to be finally taking its toll. Luckily, both should return this month.
6 (4) (12-8)  Not an eye-opening week for the Thunder, but once they figure out how to play under Billy Donovan the Thunder will be right in the thick of it.
7 (8) (10-5)  It certainly hasn't been pretty but the Bulls are just one-half game out of the top seed in the East. Still, they haven't scored 100 points in six straight.
8 (10) (11-8)  They had the Warriors on the ropes and earned a tough road win over the Bulls, doing so in both games without the injured Al Jefferson. Steve Clifford for COY?
9 (6) (12-9)  They were one or two ridiculous Steph Curry shots from pulling off the upset. Less impressive was a loss to the Nuggets two days earlier.
10 (11) (13-9)  Mike Budenholzer's group is an impressive 6-2 against the West, with wins over Memphis and Oklahoma City to their name.
11 (9) (12-9)  The Marquette alum in me loved seeing Wesley Matthews connect on 10 3-pointers Sunday night against the Wizards.
12 (12) (12-9)  And so the roller coaster continues. Important wins over the Pelicans and Suns with a blowout loss to the Spurs sandwiched in-between.
13 (12) (11-9)  Now the NBA's third most efficient defense, the Celtics' road win over the Heat on Monday was an impressive one.
14 (15) (11-9)  They had won five straight before losing a late lead against the Clippers on the road. Even so, the Magic appear postseason-bound thus far.
15 (20) (10-11)  There we go. Some room for optimism after the Rockets win three straight, with James Harden averaging 26.7/6.7/8.0 in the process.
16 (14) (11-9)  They'll play 12 of their next 14 games away from Staples Center. Thursday night in Chicago should be a good test for both teams.
17 (17) (9-9)  Life without Rudy Gobert has been difficult as the Jazz have dropped to 11th in defensive efficiency. Still, the win over Indiana was impressive.
18 (21) (12-9)  Reggie Jackson has averaged 27 points per game during the Pistons' four-game win streak. In all those games they've scored 100+ points.
19 (22) (9-12) If they can find a consistent third scorer behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, the playoffs won't be out of the question.
20 (23) (10-11)  Your weekly Kristaps Porzingis update: 16.9 points on 50 percent shooting, 10.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in his last 10 games. The Knicks hit a home run at No. 4.
21 (19) (8-11) Karl-Anthony Towns had his best game as a pro on Saturday, going for 27 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in a loss to the Blazers.
22 (16) (8-13)  They've lost eight of nine, including a heartbreaker in Memphis on a last-second alley-oop to Jeff Green. A nightmare of a schedule, yes, but 1-8 is 1-8.
23 (26) (5-15) The Pellies are a different team with Tyreke Evans in the lineup. In his return, he's averaged 14.7 points and 9.3 assists. The OT win against the Cavs was huge.
24 (18) (8-10) Cruise past the Cavaliers on the road and lose to the Lakers at home the following night. And now the schedule gets more difficult in December.
25 (25) (8-13)  In the midst of a disappointing season, Giannis Antetokounmpo is again improving, shooting better than 50 percent from the field and nearly 85 percent from the stripe.
26 (27) (8-13) They had a chance to beat the Bulls on the road, and followed that up with a win in Toronto and Philadelphia. Baby steps.
27 (24) (7-15)  Sunday night's loss to Oklahoma City was a backbreaker; the Kings led by six with less than 2 minutes to play.
28 (28) (5-15) Who would've thought the Nets would play the Warriors the closest? After almost beating them in Oakland, they led by five late in the third before Steph went Steph.
29 (29) (3-17)  Kobe Bryant is shooting 27-for-104 (25.9 percent) since announcing his retirement. Do you, Black Mamba. We'll see you Feb. 21 at the United Center for one last go-round.
30 (30) (1-20)  Earning their first win of the year had to feel good, even if it came against Kobe and the circus that is the Los Angeles Lakers.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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USA TODAY

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.

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

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USA TODAY

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.