UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
NBA

Bulls tumble as East's powers whittled down to two

Photo:

Is an Eastern Conference finals rematch between the Pacers and Heat inevitable with the Bulls ailing?

Less than a month into the NBA season and the power hierarchy in the East is already stunningly clear: Indiana and Miami on one level, everyone else on the other.

A rematch in the conference finals between the Pacers and Heat seems like a foregone conclusion after last week, which saw the Bulls' title hopes dashed upon Derrick Rose's torn meniscus. We thought the Knicks and Nets would be providing at least some measure of resistance against the two favorites, but the two New York squads are both riding five-game losing streaks and appear firmly entrenched in the conference's cellar.

So who is the the third-best team in the East? That's like picking the third-best Manning brother or Godfather film. The Hawks, which stand at No. 13 in this week's rankings, are the only other team in the conference above .500 despite letting their best player walk in free agency and bringing in a first-time head coach. After that, you have a slew of teams that don't even belong anywhere close to the playoffs. In fact, none of them would be if they were in the West.

If the playoffs started today (which, thankfully, they don't), the East would trot out four new playoff teams, including a team that lost 61 games last year (Bobcats), a team many suspected of tanking (76ers), and a squad that would have the third-to-worst record in the West (Pistons). Such is life in the wacky East, where the Pacers and Heat will likely come out unscathed due to a disappointing injury and disappointing competition.

The Wizards make this week's biggest climb, shooting up six spots to No. 21, while the Rose-less Bulls free fall nine spots to No. 19.

Here's where all 30 teams stand in this week's SI.com Power Rankings:

(Note: All statistics and records through Nov. 24).

NBA Power Rankings
 
1 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 1
Since: 3-0
It's only a matter of time until Gregg Popovich and gives the old guys a night off, but that doesn't mean San Antonio's 10-game winning streak will end. The Spurs' reserves own the second-best plus-minus rating (5.1) in the league.
 
2 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 2
Since: 3-0
The unsung hero in Indy: Lance Stephenson. There are only five players in the NBA averaging double-digit points and at least five assists and five rebounds: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and "Born Ready."
 
3 Miami Heat
Last Week: 3
Since: 3-0
Miami Heat (10-3)
The Heat yawned their way through another undefeated week, with LeBron James waking up long enough to hit a game-winner against the Magic. Miami is cruising even though each member of its Big Three is averaging less minutes per game than last season.
 
4 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 6
Since: 3-0
The Thunder are 6-0 at home and play all three of their games in Oklahoma City next week. Kevin Durant is leading the league in scoring (28.6 ppg), but he's also getting his new teammates involved, dishing out a career-high 5.2 assists a night.
 
5 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 7
Since: 4-0
Is it time we start looking at the Blazers as contenders? Portland has won 10 straight, but a closer examination reveals only two wins over teams currently with winning records. The Blazers might be the hottest team in the league, but they won't be in the conversation for the NBA's best until they beat the best.
 
6 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 4
Since: 3-2
Chris Paul is averaging almost four more assists (12.5) than anyone else in the league. He's not only playing his best basketball, but his teammates are having career years too -- a true sign of greatness.
 
7 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 9
Since: 2-1
Dwight Howard has missed more free throws than Kyrie Irving, Rudy Gay, John Wall, Tony Parker or Roy Hibbert have taken his season. With Howard shooting just 54.3 percent from the stripe, Hack-A-Dwight will continue to remain a legitimate tactic for opposing teams, albeit an ugly one.
 
8 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 11
Since: 3-1
It has been 13 years since someone not named "Dirk Nowitzki" led the Mavericks in scoring (Michael Finley). Monta Ellis (23.6 ppg) is on pace to end Dirk's (20.9) streak, but something tells me Nowitzki doesn't mind if Ellis keeps shooting 49.4 percent from the field.
 
9 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 5
Since: 1-3
If there's such thing as a bad time to lose one of your best players indefinitely, it's now for the Warriors, who have lost three straight. Having Harrison Barnes lessens the pain of losing Andre Iguodala, but it doesn't fill the void.
 
10 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 8
Since: 1-3
The advanced stats say the Wolves are elite, but their 0-4 record against the Clippers, Rockets and Warriors suggests they're good, not great. Showdowns with the top four teams in these rankings the next two weeks will test Minnesota's mettle.
 
11 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 12
Since: 2-2
The Suns appear to have gotten a steal in the Luis Scola trade. The Pacers didn't mind parting with Miles Plumlee just one year after drafting him in the first round, but he's been a huge find for the Suns, starting all 13 games and averaging 10.1 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds.
 
12 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 14
Since: 2-1
David Joerger's first year on the job just got a lot harder with the "indefinite" loss of Marc Gasol. The Grizz were already slacking on both ends (below league-average in offensive and defensive efficiency) before Kosta Koufos was their starting center.
 
13 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 13
Since: 2-2
The Hawks are filled with pleasant surprises, but most notably might be Kyle Korver, who has been particularly accurate (53.5/52.9/93.3) this season, even for Kyle Korver's standards. His 71.7 True Shooting Percentage is the best in the league.
 
14 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 15
Since: 2-1
Denver has bounced back to win five of seven and needs Kenneth Faried to keep playing at a high level. The Nuggets are 5-1 when he records a double-double.
 
15 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 16
Since: 2-2
Steve Clifford deserves some early love for Coach of the Year. The Bobcats are allowing the fifth-fewest points per possession this season after ranking dead-last in that category last year.
 
16 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 18
Since: 2-0
The Lakers are .500 and Kobe's return is on the horizon. Wasn't that the best-case scenario for Los Angeles before the season?
 
17 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 19
Since: 2-0
After ranking third-to-last in rebounds per game last season, the Raptors are up to No. 9 this season. Rudy Gay is averaging a career-high 7.4 and offseason addition Tyler Hansbrough (5.8) has provided some much-needed muscle off the bench.
 
18 New Orleans Pelicans
Last Week: 20
Since: 2-0
Think the Pelicans are happy to have Ryan Anderson back? New Orleans is 3-0 seen the big man's return. Anderson's been on fire off the bench, averaging 19.3 points and hitting 4.3 three-pointers per game on a scintillating 61.9 percent shooting. That kind of production will put Omer Asik rumors to rest.
 
19 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 10
Since: 1-3
The Bulls were aspiring title contenders with Derrick Rose, but they'll struggle to stay above .500 without him. With the possibility of Rose missing the rest of the season, Chicago's once-bright future is now bitterly grim. See Sunday's 39-point loss as Example A.
 
20 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 17
Since: 1-3
The Sixers are getting incredible production out of their guards, but Spencer Hawes (career-best 16.8 ppg and 8.1 rpg) is also putting up gaudy numbers. The 7-footer, who is shooting 49.1 percent from three-point range, could be a great fit alongside the defensive-minded Nerlens Noel down the road.
 
21 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 27
Since: 3-1
John Wall is shooting just 31.3 percent on shots not at the rim, but he continues to show confidence in his jumper, keeping opponents honest by launching 3.2 three-pointers per game (career average of 1.2) and hitting 34.1 percent of his attempts (just 26.7 percent last year). But the best stat of all? Washington has won three of four.
 
22 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 24
Since: 2-2
We knew Josh Smith would shoot more three-pointers as a small forward in Detroit, but this is bold. Even for him. Smith is averaging twice (5.2) as many attempts per game as he did in Atlanta (2.6) last season, despite shooting just 29.0 percent. To make matters worse his experimentation on the perimeter is leading to a career-worst average on the boards, too.
 
23 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 21
Since: 0-3
The Magic are ready for the Victor Oladipo Era, but Arron Afflalo isn't. The 28-year-old has responded to the No. 2 overall pick's arrival by playing the best basketball of his six-year career (22.2 ppg, 4.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists). But rather than let Oladipo wilt behind him, Orlando moved the rookie into the starting lineup alongside Afflalo three games ago. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
 
24 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 22
Since: 1-3
Lose four games, win four games. Lose seven games ... win seven games? Boston started its new streak with a win against Atlanta, and as unlikely as a seven-game run would be for the Celtics, none of their next six games are against winning teams.
 
25 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 28
Since: 2-2
There's only one team in the NBA with two players ranking in the top-12 in PER. Yep, you guessed it: the Sacramento Kings. DeMarcus Cousins (24.5) and Isaiah Thomas (23.0) continue to star in losing efforts.
 
26 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 25
Since: 0-3
It's probably not a good sign that the Cavs are starting Matthew Dellavedova and not tanking. With Dion Waiters playing worst than last year and causing distractions (and altercations?), a shake-up in Cleveland could be needed.
 
27 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 23
Since: 0-4
Who knew the Battle for New York was a race for No. 27 in these rankings? Brooklyn is bloodied, battered and bruised, losing eight of nine and boasting an injury report that looks more like a starting lineup.
 
28 New York Knicks
Last Week: 26
Since: 0-3
Any criticism would just be piling on at this point.
 
29 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 29
Since: 0-3
Nearly every one of the Bucks' offseason moves is coming back to haunt them. Injuries don't help, but Milwaukee's lost eight straight and has virtually nothing to hang its hat on. The team ranks in the bottom for in offense and defense.
 
30 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 30
Since: 0-4
Utah Jazz (1-14)
Gordon Hayward nearly made history with his futility last week. If the Jazz don't get their act together, they could make a run at the record books themselves and the '72-73 76ers (9-73) for the worst record in NBA history.
 
Promoted Stories
Comments

More NBA

SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.