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NBA AM: Are The Bulls Hottest Team In The NBA?

Are the Chicago Bulls really the hottest team in the NBA right now? And more!

Steve Kyler



Is It Hot In Here Or Is Just The Bulls?:  There are lots of fun stats to measure teams by. Wins in conference, wins on the road or points allowed. The beauty of stats is that you can really twist them into whatever narrative you would like to. There is one stat that’s really interesting to watch, though, and that’s a team’s last ten games. While small sample sizes are often misleading, the last ten gives you a real glimpse at what’s going on with a team right now. Much like Power Rankings that try to encapsulate what’s really happening from week to week, the last ten is a good measure for that too.

Chicago  22  9  .710  8-5  14-4  Won 7  9-1
Portland  25  7  .781  14-2  11-5  Won 3  8-2
Toronto  24  7  .774  14-3  10-4  Won 2  8-2
Atlanta  22  8  .733  13-3  9-5  Won 1  8-2
Washington  22  8  .733  14-4  8-4  Won 3  8-2
Golden State  24  5  .828  11-1  13-4  Won 1  7-3
Memphis  22  8  .733  12-4  10-4  Won 1  6-4
Dallas  22  10  .688  12-5  10-5  Won 2  6-4
Phoenix  18  14  .563  7-7  11-7  Won 6  6-4
Oklahoma City  15  17  .469  8-7  7-10  Lost 1  6-4
Brooklyn  14  16  .467  8-8  6-8  Won 1  6-4
Houston  21  9  .700  10-6  11-3  Lost 2  5-5
LA Clippers  21  11  .656  13-4  8-7  Won 1  5-5
Cleveland  18  12  .600  11-6  7-6  Lost 1  5-5
Milwaukee  16  16  .500  7-6  9-10  Won 1  5-5
New Orleans  15  15  .500  9-4  6-11  Lost 1  5-5
Utah  10  21  .323  5-9  5-12  Lost 1  5-5
Miami  14  18  .438  6-12  8-6  Lost 2  4-6
Denver  13  18  .419  9-7  4-11  Lost 1  4-6
Orlando  13  21  .382  4-9  9-12  Won 2  4-6
Indiana  11  21  .344  6-9  5-12  Lost 1  4-6
Charlotte  10  22  .313  7-11  3-11  Lost 3  4-6
LA Lakers  9  22  .290  4-11  5-11  Lost 3  4-6
Detroit  7  23  .233  3-13  4-10  Won 2  4-6
San Antonio  19  13  .594  10-5  9-8  Won 1  3-7
Boston  10  18  .357  7-9  3-9  Lost 4  3-7
Philadelphia  4  25  .138  0-14  4-11  Lost 2  3-7
Sacramento  13  18  .419  8-10  5-8  Lost 1  2-8
Minnesota  5  24  .172  3-11  2-13  Lost 8  1-9
New York  5  28  .152  3-13  2-15  Lost 8  1-9

Looking through the standings as of last night’s games, no one in the NBA is hotter right now than the 22-9 Chicago Bulls. They have won seven straight games and nine of their last ten. Four teams comprise the next tier with eight wins in their last ten and that’s Portland (25-7), Toronto (24-7), Atlanta (22-8) and Washington (22-8).

The bottom of the proverbial barrel are the 5-28 New York Knicks and the 5-24 Minnesota Timberwolves; both have lost nine of their last ten games, and eight straight overall,

The 5-5 club is always interesting because that’s the middle of the pack. Through the last ten games Houston (21-9), LA Clippers (21-11), Cleveland (18-12), Milwaukee (16-16), New Orleans (15-15) and Utah (10-21) are playing .500 basketball.

With less than 50 games left to play in the regular season, the 5-5 clubs are interesting because a .500 team is who some of those teams really are, while some of the teams that have amassed a better record seem to be regressing slightly.

Last ten is hardly the end all of season snap shots, but it pretty telling of how a team is playing in an 1/8th snap shots.

Let’s Talk Clippers:  Yesterday in my weekly NBA Chat, a question surfaced about what’s going on with the Clippers. After all this is a team many pundits and experts, including myself, pegged to win the Pacific Division and challenge for Western Conference supremacy.

At 21-11 the Clippers are far from terrible; they have won 65 percent of their games, which is nothing to sneeze at, but they are also not quite the team they were expected to be for a few glaring reasons.

There is a narrative that the Clippers players don’t like each other, and while that’s easy to say, it’s only partly true. The Clippers are struggling with each other for sure, but it’s more complicated than saying they don’t like each other, because for the most part they are a very close nit group who are friendly off the court. Where the dislike and dysfunction is surfacing is on the court. This bunch is struggling with roles and pushing back on each other when things don’t go right. When they win, it’s great. When they lose there is subtle finger pointing.

Some of this is on Chris Paul.

Paul is one of the more likeable personalities in the league and his commercials have certainly created a persona that fans can relate to. Casting Paul as a villain doesn’t go over well, but Paul is not the easiest guy in the world to play with. He is demanding of his teammates. He is prone to scolding them when things don’t go right, especially in games, yet he is sort of above reproach when he makes mistakes.

Some of this is also on Blake Griffin.

The Clippers want Blake to be a star. They want him to play like an MVP every possession and they want him to be assertive and aggressive. That does not come naturally to Griffin. He gets a little self-conscious when he puts up a volume of shots and he is aware that other guys want the ball too. He is somewhat conflicted with the role his team wants him to play and the role he is comfortable playing. He has also turned into a complainer. That has not gone over well with his team, especially with Paul, who wants Blake to play a certain way all the time.

So what’s wrong with the Clippers?

The easy answer is they are not a unit game in and game out. The complex answer is that Paul wants the team to run one way, while Griffin wants the team to run another way and the rest of the guys are sort of caught in the middle of what could best be described as a big brother, little brother scenario.

The Clippers are not a bad team. They are simply a conflicted team trying to work some chemistry issues out. Some of that has to do with how Paul can be with his teammates; some of it is Griffin finding his place as a leader on a team that already has one in Paul.

Head coach Doc Rivers plays a role in this too, but this is the nature of having two number one options.

The Thunder have gone through this with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, at some point one guy has to be the alpha male and the other needs to accept being secondary. That’s not happening yet in LA. It’s also not easy to force that in a league that rewards being a star, it almost has to work itself out.

The Clippers are not broken, but they certainly have some issues to work out and that’s why they find themselves in the middle of the pack in the West.

Hawks Sale:  The Atlanta Hawks are still for sale, although you wouldn’t know it based on the pace of trying to find a buyer.

This summer when the Danny Ferry/Luol Deng scandal surfaced it seemed there were no shortage of suitors for the Hawks. The Mayor was quoted saying he’d heard from at least six would-be buyers. Team CEO Steve Koonin characterized his response the list of would-be suitors as “shocked” by the volume and seriousness of the calls. That was in early September.

The problem is outside of some groups named in the media, there does not appear to be a serious “at-the-table” buyer.

Sources close to a group pondering buying the Hawks said that while their group has done due diligence on a purchase, they were unsure of who the additional buyers would be. The source said the rumored $800 plus million asking price seemed artificial without others at the table.

The NBA is running the sale process and made it clear they were going to be thoughtful and thorough in vetting the potential new owners of the Hawks and have hired an investment bank to run the sale.

There have been reports that a group including former Hawks star Dominique Wilkins was interested. There have been more recent reports that peg former NBA star Grant Hill as having interest. There is said to be a group comprised of New York investment types that are at the table as well as a group said to include former baseball great Hank Aaron.

There is no timetable set on a deal, however, it is unclear how many suitors are really willing to meet a massive price tag, although this subject could pick up speed after the All-Star break.

There is a sense that the NBA would like to have a new owner in place once the season ends and are trying to make sure that an ownership change does not impact the current season.

It’s commonly believed that the Clippers $2 billion sales price would massively influence the Hawks’ price, which does not appear to be the case according to a source talking about buying the team. It is clear that the new TV deal the NBA just reached is having more impact on the price than the Clippers sale.

It’s believed that the Hawks will fetch somewhere between $800 million to $1 billion, depending on the seriousness of the suitors.

The problem with getting a premium on the Hawks is there is still a sense that the Brooklyn Nets could be had too, which could impact how high a buyer would go for the Hawks. If the franchise in Brooklyn is really available would that be a better place to park $1+ billion investment?

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA, @iamdpick, @jblancartenba, @johnzitzler, @marypazstevens and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.


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Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance

Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.

David Yapkowitz



Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.

The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.

As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.

For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.

“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”

Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.

He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.

The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.

“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”

Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.

He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.

“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”

Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.

Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.

If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.

For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.

“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”

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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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