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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

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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.

NBA  W  L  PCT  HOME  ROAD  STRK  L10
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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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton

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He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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