Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah,

NBA Power Rankings: Bulls grab top spot by the horns


The top three are pretty much set, it’s just a matter of who is playing the best among them at this moment. Right now it’s Chicago. The bottom three are pretty much locked in, too, but the Bobcats have really grabbed hold of the last spot and made it their own.

1. Bulls (31-8, last week ranked number 3). Four games, four wins since the All-Star break — and that is with Rip Hamilton not really finding his footing yet since his return. Everybody already looking forward to a week from Wednesday when the Bulls face the Heat again.

2. Thunder (29-8, LW 2). They continue to close out games well despite pretty stagnant late game play calling. Why? They play great defense at the end of games (read Zach Lowe at SI). Their Achilles heel is turnovers, that’s what cost them against the Hawks in their one loss since the All-Star break.

3. Heat (28-9, LW 1). Back-to-back losses to the Lakers and Jazz — both teams with strong front lines playing the Heat without Chris Bosh. He matters a lot more to the Heat then people realize, and the drop-off after him is steep. As for LeBron James, he’s the one guy in the league who gets criticized for passing to an open teammate.

4. Clippers (22-13 LW 6). Hard-fought overtime win Sunday against a Rockets team that is tougher than everyone realizes. Expect a lot more games like that in the coming weeks — their March schedule is brutal. They are on the road this week and have a tough one Friday at San Antonio.

5. Lakers (23-14, LW 8). The Lakers got a signature win over the Heat on Sunday, a game where they really used their assets to exploit Miami inside. Kobe Bryant is shooting 54 percent since Dwyane Wade broke his nose — he says he’s not going to wear the mask any longer than he has to, but the way he is shooting he may want to consider going Rip Hamilton.

6. Spurs (25-12, LW 4). Tough losses to good teams in Chicago and Denver this week. Another test coming Friday against the Clippers. For a while it looked like this team could beat anyone, but do you really buy that when the playoffs get here.

7. Magic (24-14, LW 7). Lost to the Thunder last week… really, does anybody care about their games the next two weeks? Until the deadline the league is on Dwight watch.

8. Pacers (23-12, LW 9). Six wins in a row, but they continue to beat the league’s weak teams. This week the schedule is Bulls, Hawks, Heat and Magic. If you want to say you are upper echelon, talk to us after that gauntlet.

9. Grizzlies (22-15, LW 12). Won 10-12, but most of that at home. When they get Zach Randolph back and integrated, watch out. Who wants this team in the first round of the playoffs? (If the playoffs started today it would be a Lakers/Grizzlies first round, which would be a fascinating battle of bigs.)

10. Mavericks (22-16, LW 5). They had a five-game losing streak before Dirk Nowitzki went off for 40 and stopped it Saturday. Lamar Odom is back and says he is sorry for how things are gone, but the Mavs need actions to speak louder than words.

11. Hawks (22-15, LW 14). Impressive win over the Thunder last week. They have three games in four nights this week, and that is the kind of situation where a lack of mental focus can hurt a team. So, bad news for the Hawks.

12. Nuggets (21-17, LW 16). Nice wins over Portland, San Antonio and Houston last week. They are in the same boat as Houston — one of the last playoff spots in the west with Minnesota just two games back — but with a soft schedule this week they can start to create some distance.

13. Rockets (21-17, LW 11). Lost to Utah, Denver and the Clippers last week and now seven of their next eight are on the road. Right now they are the seven seed in the West but Minnesota is lurking two games back.

14. 76ers (22-16, LW 10). Flying under the trade deadline radar is Andres Nocioni — don’t be shocked if he gets moved.

15. Celtics (19-17, LW 18). Four wins in a row last week out of the All-Star break — this team is dangerous when rested. Some teams struggle when trade rumors swirl, but this veteran group should be able to play through it.

16. Timberwolves (19-19, LW 17). They are in the playoff mix (just two games out) but are going to have to fight to keep that spot — Clippers, Lakers and Blazers this week, then they head out on a lengthy road trip.

17. Knicks (18-19, LW 13). They are the eighth seed in the East, but Milwaukee is four games back so they likely can hold on to a playoff spot baring a total collapse. However, they are three games back of Atlanta at the six seed, and you really don’t want the Heat or Bulls in the first round.

18. Jazz (17-19, LW 19).
They are showcasing Devin Harris for a potential trade — and he’s looked pretty good, including the game winner over the Heat on Friday.

19. Suns (17-20, LW 20). Three straight games where the Suns have rallied from more than 20 points back to win. We’re all watching for Steve Nash trade rumors, but right now it looks like they keep him.

20. Blazers (18-19, LW 15). Jamal Crawford trade rumors are going to engulf this team for the next two weeks, we’ll see how they deal with it. Right now they are not dealing well with much of anything well.

21. Warriors (14-19, LW 22). Their offense is just wildly inconsistent, which makes them a team that can beat anyone or lose to anyone on any given night. But they are entertaining while they do it.

22. Pistons (12-26, LW 23). They have dropped four of five and have looked pretty terrible doing it.

23. Bucks (14-23, LW 24).
If they are going to make a playoff run they need to get very hot right now. That’s not going to happen, by the way.

24. Nets (12-26, LW 26).
They have won three of five since Brook Lopez came back, with two of those wins over Dallas and New York. Of course, Lopez rolled his ankle and may miss a few games, so it will be back to the same old Nets for a while.

25. Raptors (12-25, LW 27).
Here is how Raptors fans need to look at the season — next year they get Jonas Valanciunas and whoever they draft this year to come in to camp. It’s like two lottery picks in one.

26. Cavaliers (13-22, LW 21). They lost to the Wizards this week. They are lucky to be this high.

27. Kings (12-25, LW 25). Hey, they got a new arena deal. We’re just going to keep talking about that (and that they plan to bring back coach Keith Smart next season).

28. Hornets (9-28, LW 28). They are showcasing Chris Kaman for a trade and he is looking good — 16.5 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game since his return. Like the kind of player the Hornets should have been playing earlier.

29. Wizards (8-28, LW 29). Randy Wittman is trying to put his foot down and instill some discipline (like by benching JaVale McGee). Good luck with that.

30. Bobcats (4-30, LW 30). Nice decision not to double Deron Williams off the pick-and-roll on Sunday. How did that work out for you?

Joel Embiid hits shots, blocks Westbrook, looks good in debut

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And somewhere, Sam Hinkie weeps.

After two seasons on the sidelines with foot injuries, Joel Embiid played his first NBA game Wednesday night — and he looked good — 20 points, seven rebounds, and a couple of blocked shots. The Philadelphia crowd loved him — when he opened the game with a nice move and free-throw line jumper, followed by a block of Russell Westbrook, the arena nearly exploded. He was later serenaded with “trust the process” chants as he shot free throws.

He’s still a work in progress — he tried to do too much rather than let the game come to him. That led to 7-of-17 shooting and him chasing blocks on defense and getting out of position. He played like an over-amped rookie. Which he was. (Apparently, some Philly fans were a little over-amped, too.)

But one with a world of talent. The Sixers have something here.

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Lakers youth steps out of Kobe’s shadow

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 04:  D'Angelo Russell #1 and Jordan Clarkson #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers react to a Sacramento Kings foul during a preseason game at Honda Center on October 4, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The NBA had its first full slate of games, and PBT is back with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. This is what you missed while getting arrested for blocking traffic dressed as a tree.

1) Lakers youth shows out. Rockets are what we thought they were. Last season’s Kobe Bryant farewell tour was entertaining at moments — but Wednesday night the new, young, Luke Walton Lakers were unleashed and that was a much better show. And it was show Lakers fans have longed to see. For the first time D’Angelo Russell looked like he enjoyed playing in the NBA. Jordan Clarkson was clutch and led the team with 25 points. Julius Randle used his athleticism wisely on his way to 18. Brandon Ingram showed flashes. Heck, I swear I saw Nick Young doing the dirty work on defense. Sure, it helps when the opposing defense is basically a matador waving a cape as you drive past them, still these young Lakers were attacking, playing fast — and winning, 120-114. No, the Lakers are not suddenly morphing into a playoff team in the West this season, but their young stars came out of Kobe’s shadow and basked in the sunlight for a night. This team is going to be fun. And it’s the show Lakers fans have wanted to see.

This season is so simple for the Rockets: They will go as far as their defense takes them. And that defense was a dumpster fire on opening night (the Lakers scored at a 115 points per 100 possession pace). In the second half the Lakers upped their defensive pressure and when the Rockets offense stumbled — 18 points in the fourth, just two in the final 2:55, no James Harden assists for more than 18 minutes — there was nothing for Houston to fall back on. The Rockets are going to be a entertaining to watch this season, but if their defense doesn’t improve they will lose a lot of games just like this.

2) Anthony Davis put up Jordan, Wilt numbers on opening night — and it was not enough. Anthony Davis is back. A year ago he was the guy most NBA GMs said they wanted to build around, then after one “down” season (24.3 point and 10.3 rebounds a game is down?) everyone is in love with Karl-Anthony Towns. Tuesday, Davis reminded everyone he’s a beast. A franchise player. Absolutely unstoppable when he gets going. And Wednesday night he was going — 50 points (on 34 shots), 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists, and four blocks. Only three others in NBA history put up 50 on opening night: Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan. That is some serious company.

And the Pelicans still lost to the Denver Nuggets. For all Davis’ greatness the management in New Orleans has not put enough team around him to win games, not at a “make the playoffs” level anyway. Pelicans not named Davis shot 36.2 percent overall and 17.7 percent from three. This isn’t on coach Alvin Gentry, blame falls higher up the ladder. The clock is now ticking in New Orleans — Davis is in the first season of his new five-year contract (the first after his rookie deal). If the Pelicans don’t have it together around him by the time this contract is up, he’s going to bolt.

3) Myles Turner might be your Most Improved Player. When we at PBT made our award predictions for the coming season, I did not pick Myles Turner for Most Improved Player (in part because I don’t like to pick second-year players for that award — they are supposed to improve). But as NBC’s Dan Feldman told me lat night, we both should have picked him. Wednesday night Turner looked like the guy making the biggest leap — he had 30 points,16 rebounds, and four blocks in the season opener. He’s the guy who led the Pacers to an overtime win over the Mavericks. Paul George had an efficient 25, he stepped up as you’d expect in OT, but this was Turner’s night. He can score inside and has range — does this shot chart work for you?

Turner shot chart

If Indiana is going to be a real playoff threat, they are going to need this Turner regularly — and they just might get it. This guy is ready to take the next step.

Bonus Wednesday note: If you’re betting that Russell Westbrook can average a triple-double this season, opening night was a good night for you. Westbrook had 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. He is going to just be a stats machine this year.

Watch as DeMar DeRozan drop 40, lead Raptors to 109-91 win over Pistons

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan scored 40 points and Jonas Valanciunas added a career-high 32 as the Toronto Raptors opened their season with a 109-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night.

DeRozan made a career-high 17 field goals on 27 shots and was a perfect 6 for 6 from the free throw line, while Valanciunas was 10 for 15 from the field to go along with 11 rebounds. Valanciunas’ previous career high was 31, also against the Pistons, on Jan. 12, 2015.

Tobias Harris had 22 points and Marcus Morris had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons, who lost for the eighth time in their last 11 games against Toronto.

DeRozan broke Vince Carter‘s opening-night record of 39 points, set against the-then New Jersey Nets in 2003. Alvin Robertson is the only other Toronto player to record a 30-point opening-night game, in the franchise’s first-ever game, also against New Jersey, in 1995.

Pascal Siakam, drafted 27th overall in June, became the first Toronto rookie to start a season opener since Valanciunas in 2012, and rose to the occasion, hauling in nine rebounds to go along with four points in 21 minutes.

Despite falling into a seven-point deficit 2:09 into the game, the Raptors went in front on a jumper by DeRozan with 6:47 to go in the first quarter and led the rest of the way.

DeRozan and Valanciunas steadied the ship in the opening quarter, driving to the basket and drawing fouls. They were a combined 13 for 13 from the free throw line and scored 15 and 10 points, respectively, as the Raptors took a 33-23 lead after one quarter.

While Detroit responded against Toronto’s reserves in the second, drawing within four points early on through Morris, Valanciunas returned to the game and added another 11 points as the Raptors pulled into a 58-46 halftime lead.

DeRozan provided much of the fireworks in the third quarter, scoring 21 points as Toronto pulled away to lead 86-71 going into the final 12 minutes.


Pistons: C Andre Drummond took a hard elbow to the face from Valanciunas at the start of the game and remained down on the court. Detroit was forced to burn a full timeout, but Drummond returned to the court. . Henry Ellenson, Detroit’s first-round draft pick last June (18th overall) went scoreless in two minutes of play, while second-round selection Michael Gbinije (49th overall), had two points in two minutes.

Raptors: C Lucas Nogueira (ankle) sat out. . DeRozan started his franchise-record eighth straight season opener, breaking a tie with Carter. . Kyle Lowry‘s basket with 3:58 remaining in the first quarter broke the monopoly of Valanciunas and DeRozan, who had scored all the points up to that point. . First-round draft pick Jakob Poeltl became the first Austrian to play in the NBA. He finished with two points in 13 minutes. . Oct. 26 is the earliest date that Toronto has ever had a home opener. . The Raptors are 13-9 on opening night and have won four straight.


PBT Extra: Spurs showed Warriors have work to do defensively

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Nobody expected what happened Tuesday night in the Bay Area.

If you had said “San Antonio would beat Golden State by five” most people would have said that’s a possibility — but nobody saw a 29-point thrashing. A game where the Spurs were never threatened and where Kawhi Leonard looked like the MVP.

What does it mean? In this PBT Extra I talk about how the Spurs showed the Warriors they have some work to do on the defensive end. The Warriors clearly miss the rim protection and rebounding of Andrew Bogut, and they are going to have to make that up as a team (because Zaza Pachulia is no Bogut). The Warriors also have 81 more games to figure it out.

Cleveland, on the other hand, has it figured out.