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Noah, Bulls lead Eastern Conference revival

Photo: Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

Chicago is 9-1 in its last 10, with Joakim Noah averaging 14.6 points, 12.2 boards and seven assists.

The Eastern Conference has been ripe with low-hanging fruit and punchlines this season. But there's been a noticeable surge of late from a few East teams, helping even out the competition with the West.

The Bulls, who have won nine of 10 games, crack the top 10 of the Power Rankings this week for the first time since Derrick Rose was in uniform. Many assumed Chicago would fade after trading longtime starting small forward Luol Deng to Cleveland in January, but the deal has had the opposite effect. Instead, the Joakim Noah-led Bulls are 19-8 since the move, improving to a season-best seven games above .500.

But Chicago isn't alone. The Raptors (No. 12) have won 13 of 19 and the Wizards (No. 14) are on a six-game winning streak, while the Nets (No. 15) and Bobcats (No. 17) have also picked up the pace.

With the surprising burst, six East teams make the top half of the rankings. That's an impressive feat considering the conference's futility for much of the season.

As for the rest of the rankings, Nos. 20-30 combined to go 5-32 last week. Enough said.

(All records and statistics are through March 2.)

SI Now: Bulls head Eastern Conference surge
On Monday's SI Now, NBA producer Matt Dollinger talks about the surprising east coast revival led by the Chicago Bulls, Jason Collins playing in Brooklyn for the first time tonight and Evan Turner looking to find his stride with the Pacers.
NBA Power Rankings
 
1 Miami Heat
Last Week: 1
Since: 2-0
Miami Heat (42-14)
Was the NBA worried that LeBron James' black mask would give him a competitive advantage? If that's the case, a change to clear isn't going to help anything. The mask would have to cover his eyes to trigger a real drop in performance. Miami has won seven straight and 10 of 11, and LeBron is shooting 67.8 percent as a masked man.
 
2 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 3
Since: 4-0
Evan Turner has been aggressive in four games with Indiana, averaging 11.3 shot attempts (and 11.5 points) in only 23.3 minutes. His best performance came Saturday at Boston, where he helped Indiana hold off the pesky Celtics and even played some point guard down the stretch. The Pacers have the talent to let Turner find his niche on the fly.
 
3 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 6
Since: 3-0
Coach/VP Doc Rivers has been scouring the league all season for the right veteran pieces to round out his team, but I doubt he ever thought he'd be able to add two names as big as Glen Davis and Danny Granger. The two forwards come to Los Angeles with something to prove -- although they'll have to try to make a positive impact in more limited roles than they're used to.
 
4 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 2
Since: 2-1
The same Russell Westbrook who took heat after the Thunder dropped three consecutive home games upon his return has fueled their last two victories, against Memphis and Charlotte. Averaging 23.5 points on 70.8 percent shooting will do that.
 
5 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 5
Since: 3-0
The Spurs are 3-0 since starting small forward Kawhi Leonard returned after missing 14 games with a broken finger. Leonard has made 6-of-11 from three-point range and 55.6 percent overall in those games. Meanwhile, starting point guard Tony Parker came back from a six-game absence in Sunday's victory over Dallas as San Antonio played with its regular rotation for the first time in two months.
 
6 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 4
Since: 2-1
The Rockets have a top-10 defense that has been getting better, as Rob Mahoney noted. But make no mistake: This is a team that heavily relies on its offense. With last week's 101-93 loss to the Clippers, Houston dropped to 4-12 when scoring fewer than 100 points.
 
7 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 9
Since: 3-0
The Blazers went 4-1 while All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge sat with a groin injury (he returned for Saturday's victory over Denver). That's an impressive testament to the team's newfound depth. Portland went 1-7 without him last season.
 
8 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 7
Since: 2-2
Stephen Curry scored 34 points but committed six turnovers in Sunday's loss to Toronto, the fourth stop on a six-game road trip. Curry leads the NBA with four turnovers per game and the Warriors are 8-9 when he has at least six.
 
9 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 13
Since: 4-0
Joakim Noah has been doing a little bit of everything of late, including dishing out the most assists (14) by an NBA center in almost 30 years, as part of a triple-double against the Knicks on Sunday. Meanwhile, after seeing what he's done with D.J. Augustin, we're looking forward to what Tom Thibodeau has in store for Jimmer Fredette.
 
10 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 11
Since: 2-1
In the 22 games since Marc Gasol's return from a knee injury, the Grizzlies are allowing a league-low 90.3 points and ranking third in defensive rating (96.8). The offense has been playing at a high level too of late, too, scoring 100 points in four of the last five games after going more than a month without hitting triple digits.
 
11 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 8
Since: 2-2
The Mavs have one of the best offenses in the league, but they haven't had much success against elite defenses. Dallas' last four losses have come against teams in the top 10 in defensive efficiency, while its last four wins have come against teams in the bottom 10 in the defensive efficiency.
 
12 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 12
Since: 2-1
DeMar DeRozan has scored at least 30 points in three straight games, in part because he's living at the line. He shot double-digit free throws in each game last week and is one of just two guards (along with Houston's James Harden) averaging at least seven attempts per game.
 
13 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 10
Since: 2-2
Phoenix Suns (35-24)
Gerald Green's career year keeps getting better. Once known as just a dunker, Green is averaging a career-best 15.1 points with a diverse repertoire. He's hitting a career-high 2.4 three-pointers per game (on 37.9 percent shooting) and has also developed a deadly mid-range game. In fact, this research paper by Second Spectrum, presented at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, calculates that Green is the best mid-range shooter in the game.
 
14 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 16
Since: 3-0
The Wizards are riding high with their longest winning streak since April 2012. But if they don't get Nene back from a knee injury for the playoffs, they'll have a tough time advancing, even if they do manage to secure home-court advantage in the first round.
 
15 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 14
Since: 2-1
The Nets won at Milwaukee on Saturday to complete a 4-3 road trip that actually started before the All-Star break. Jason Collins, who has made four appearances since signing a 10-day contract, will play his first home game as a Net on Monday against Chicago.
 
16 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 17
Since: 2-1
Here come the Wolves! Kevin Love and Co. have won five of six and sit 5½ games behind Dallas for the eighth seed in the West. Now is the time to make a move: Minnesota plays six of its next seven games against losing teams and begins a four-game homestand Wednesday against New York.
 
17 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 15
Since: 0-2
Releasing Ben Gordon the day after he would have been playoff eligible for another team is a cold move, but a smart one. Charlotte, which is seventh in the East, has enough going against it as is; it doesn't need the potential of facing a motivated former employee in the postseason.
 
18 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 21
Since: 2-2
Last week's victory at Oklahoma City was the Cavs' biggest win of the season. An 8-4 run has put Cleveland 3½ games behind slumping Atlanta for the last playoff spot in the East. But the Cavs will have to navigate a tough schedule in March. Next week's three-game Western trip is followed by home games against Miami, Oklahoma City and Houston.
 
19 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 23
Since: 2-2
Utah Jazz (21-38)
It's puzzling that the rebuilding Jazz are starting two veteran forwards on expiring contracts at this point of the season. Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams have helped keep Utah competitive -- the Jazz are 18-10 when they join Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors in the starting lineup -- but that means fewer Ping-Pong balls in the draft lottery.
 
20 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 18
Since: 0-3
The only thing that's taken a harder nosedive than the Nuggets' season are Bitcoins. Denver has lost 10 of 11 since reaching 24-23 on Feb. 5. The Nuggets' 10-year playoff streak is set to end in coach Brian Shaw's first season.
 
21 New Orleans Pelicans
Last Week: 20
Since: 0-4
Jrue Holiday had season-ending leg surgery last week. His continued absence gives the Pelicans a chance to have 2012 lottery pick Austin Rivers play extended minutes before deciding what to do with their cluttered backcourt this offseason.
 
22 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 19
Since: 0-3
The Hawks could miss the playoffs for the first time in seven years if their struggles continue -- but that's a good thing. Atlanta, which has lost 11 of 12, never advanced past the second round in any of those postseason campaigns. And as general manager Danny Ferry surely realizes, sometimes you have to get worse to get better in the NBA.
 
23 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 22
Since: 0-3
You don't need advanced metrics to tell you the Pistons are bad, but they do illuminate the picture. According to a paper presented at the Sloan conference, Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings are the two worst players in the NBA in terms of efficiency and shot selection. The only way things could get worse is if Detroit brought back Isiah Thomas. Wait, what?!?
 
24 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 25
Since: 2-2
Following the Thunder blueprint, the Magic are doing a terrific job developing their young talent and giving them minutes to grow. Orlando could be one of the most fun teams to watch next season, depending on the lottery results. The Magic already have four promising talents in Nikola Vucevic (23 years old), Victor Oladipo (21), Tobias Harris (21) and Moe Harkless (20).
 
25 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 28
Since: 1-2
As owner Wyc Grousbeck said at the Sloan conference, "If we wanted to lose games, we hired the wrong coach." Brad Stevens might have been dealt a bad hand this season, but he's not one to fold.
 
26 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 27
Since: 1-2
The Lakers beat the Kings on Friday for their first victory over a West team since Jan. 3. Such is life for a team tied for the worst record in the conference.
 
27 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 26
Since: 0-3
DeMarcus Cousins dominates. DeMarcus Cousins loses his cool. DeMarcus Cousins gets ejected. DeMarcus Cousins apologizes. Repeat.
 
28 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 29
Since: 1-2
Coach Larry Drew's bold new strategy: Bring his best players off the bench. It managed to work against the 76ers (pretty much everything does). Milwaukee scored a season-high 130 points, and the bench (72) outscored the starters (58).
 
29 New York Knicks
Last Week: 26
Since: 0-4
Hey, Brooklyn got an NBA team last season; maybe Manhattan will get one next year! Said Carmelo Anthony after the Knicks' latest shellacking (at Chicago on Sunday): "It's frustrating and it's embarrassing."
 
30 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 30
Since: 0-4
Former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy on the Sixers at the Sloan conference: "If you're putting that roster on the floor, you're doing everything you can possibly do to try to lose." True, but awkward, considering 76ers GM Sam Hinkie was in the audience.
 

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