NBA Power Rankings: Jan 31, 2016

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Dallas MavericksThe biggest matchup from this past week involved the Cleveland Cavaliers taking on the San Antonio Spurs. Cleveland, which recently underwent controversy after firing David Blatt, proved they can play with the league’s elite by knocking off San Antonio 117-103. See if this affects our NBA power rankings this week, and check out last week’s rankings here.

1. Golden State Warriors (44-4); same spot – Golden State doesn’t always need Steph Curry to be on. The Warriors blew out the Knicks thanks to 34 points from Klay Thompson and Draymond Green’s triple-double.

2. San Antonio Spurs (39-8); same spot – The Spurs were easily handled by Golden State and Cleveland last week. But they were also on the road both times without Tim Duncan.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (34-12); up 1 spot – Kevin Love is playing miles better and the Cavs crushed San Antonio. The players (notably LeBron James) are responding really well to new coach Tyronn Lue.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder (36-13); down 1 spot – The Thunder should be fired up when they play Golden State on Feb.6 since Steph Curry guaranteed a victory over them.

5. Toronto Raptors (32-15); same spot – Cleveland is no longer a shoo-in to win the East, especially with the Raptors riding an 11-game winning streak.

blake-griffin-clippers6. LA Clippers (32-16); same spot – The Clippers’ outstanding play without Blake Griffin has been overshadowed by the latter punching an equipment manager. Griffin will be out another 4-6 weeks – will he also serve a suspension on top of that?

7. Memphis Grizzlies (28-20); up 1 spot – Memphis continues quietly climbing the standings and our power rankings after putting together an excellent January.

8. Chicago Bulls (26-20); up 1 spot – First Jimmy Butler called the Bulls soft, now we have Pau Gasol saying the team lacks discipline. But through it all, Chicago keeps winning thanks to their high talent level.

9. Miami Heat (27-21); up 6 spots – Last week, the Heat were hanging onto the East’s last playoff slot. This week, thanks to a 4-game win streak, they’re now holding the fourth seed.

10. Boston Celtics (27-22); up 1 spot – The Celtics are showing tremendous improvement under coach Brad Stevens. Don’t be surprised if they get first-round home-court advantage before the regular seasons ends.

11. Dallas Mavericks (28-22); up 2 spots – Will this be another Dallas-like season? In other words, a solid regular-season record coupled with a quick first-round playoff exit?

12. Atlanta Hawks (27-22); down 5 spots – Atlanta might not be playing as well as last year. But is it really time to start trading away their star players already?

paul-george-pacers13. Indiana Pacers (25-22); down 1 spot – Indiana faces the Cavs tomorrow night on their home floor. They’ll need a huge game from Paul George to pull this one off.

14. Detroit Pistons (25-23); down 4 spots – Detroit just can’t seem to string together consistent play, and it all begins with their limited bench.

15. Houston Rockets (25-25); down 1 spot – The Rockets are victims of a three-game losing streak, but two of these losses were to OKC and the Spurs, and they dropped a 1-point contest against Washington.

16. Washington Wizards (21-24); same spot – Washington snapped a three-game losing streak against Houston. They face the ultimate test against Golden State on Wednesday.

17. Charlotte Hornets (23-25); up 2 spots – Charlotte has Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back and they’re looking like a new team. But are they a playoff team?

18. New York Knicks (23-27); down 1 spot – The Knicks just can’t seem to get over the hump whenever they get close to .500.

19. Portland Trailblazers (23-26); up 2 spots – Portland has now won four straight games to take over the West’s eighth seed. But it won’t be easy holding it with Sacramento and Utah closely trailing.

20. Orlando Magic (21-25); same spot – The road has been Orlando’s Achilles’ heel since they’re only 8-14 away from Amway Center.

21. Utah Jazz (21-25); up 1 spot – Utah is winners of three of their last four games. But now they go on an East-Coast road trip that will really test them.

22. Sacramento Kings (20-27); down 5 spots – The West has been unkind to Sacramento since they’re just 10-20 against their own conference.

23. Milwaukee Bucks (20-29); same spot – Looking at the talent and depth that Milwaukee has, it’s hard to see how they’re sitting at 9 games below .500.

anthony-davis-vs-pistons24. New Orleans Pelicans (18-28); up 1 spot – This is a regression from last season, but at least Anthony Davis still looks like a franchise savior – he just needs the right supporting cast.

25. Denver Nuggets (18-30); down 1 spot – Denver has had major trouble holding home court, going just 9-15 at Pepsi Center.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-35); same spot – After going 2-14 in January, Minnesota probably can’t wait for a new month to begin.

27. Phoenix Suns (14-35); same spot – Despite facing an impossible situation due to injuries and his assistants being fired, Jeff Hornacek himself was fired this week.

28. Brooklyn Nets (12-36); same spot – Brooklyn could unfortunately be in for plenty of seasons like this in the future since they traded away so many first-round picks.

29. L.A. Lakers (9-41); same spot – The Lakers have hit a new low after dropping 10 straight games. They are now flirting with the league’s worst record.

30. Philadelphia 76ers (7-41); same spot – Philadelphia gave the Warriors a definite scare last night, proving just how far they’ve come with Ish Smith now at point guard.

Jimmy Butler leaving Chicago Bulls Soon?

Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy ButlerFew NBA players improved their stock as much as Jimmy Butler did this past season. The 6’6″ shooting guard averaged 20.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG and 3.3 APG. Given his impressive performance, which landed Butler his first All-Star Game appearance, the Chicago Bulls are expected to present him with a maximum 5-year, $90 million deal. But on the same token, the 25-year-old is expected to reject their max offer and seek a better deal after the 2016-17 season, when the salary cap increases.

Butler will instead be looking for a short-term offer that would allow him to become a free agent some time after the 2016-17 campaign. There could also be a trade kicker included in Butler’s contract, meaning there’s a very realistic possibility that the Bulls lose him to free agency.

Much of the talk surrounding his free agency centers on Los Angeles, where Butler has been living this summer. Rumors suggest that he’s liked staying in L.A. and could be the big-name free agent that the Lakers have been looking for in recent years.

jimmy-butler-bulls-free-agent-1However, Chicago has the ability to match any offer sheet, meaning, at least in the short term, they can keep their All-Star guard. As Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports, the likely short-term deal for Butler would be a 3-year contract worth $50 million, with an option on the third year that enables him to enter free agency again. Assuming Butler goes this route, he could sign for as much as $190 million through a 5-year deal.

Given the $100 million difference between what the Bulls want to offer Butler and what he could get in two more seasons, it’s more than understandable why he doesn’t want to be locked into anything right now.

If Chicago has any chance of locking him into a 5-year, $90 million contract now, they have to sell him on their ability to win a championship. And this won’t be easy, with head coach Tom Thibodeau now gone, and new coach Fred Hoiberg coming in. Thibodeau was instrumental in helping Butler get to where he is today, so Butler will have to be convinced that Hoiberg is the right man to lead this team in the future.

Another aspect to consider here is if Derrick Rose and Butler can thrive together in the same backcourt. Both are talented, All-Star caliber players, but they didn’t always have great on-court chemistry, given that they had off-shooting nights at the same time on several instances in the 2015 postseason. If they can work out a way to mesh together, it would go a long way towards keeping Butler in Chicago for the long term. Assuming he accepts a short-term deal from the Bulls this summer, perhaps he and Rose can work on building better chemistry in the future.

Cavs vs Bulls Game 5 Betting Preview

lebron-game-winner-bullsThe Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls series has definitely been the most entertaining of the 2015 NBA Playoffs. First, Derrick Rose capped off his team’s Game 3 victory with a winning bank-shot three-pointer. Then, with 1.5 seconds remaining, LeBron James hit a game-winner for Cleveland to even the series at 2-2. Given all of this drama, what should we expect for Game 5, as action heads back to Cleveland? We’ll discuss this, but first, take a look at the Game 5 betting line:

Game Time: Tuesday (May 12th) at 7:00pm ET Betting Line:
Cleveland -5.5 (-110)     Over 191 (-110)
Chicago (-110)               Under (-110)

Injuries will play a Huge Role

Think the Kevin Love injury was the worst of it for either team in this series? Not even close, with Kyrie Irving playing some of his worst basketball of the year with a sore foot and knee tendinitis. LeBron has a twisted ankle and isn’t 100% either. On the Bulls’ side, All-Star center Pau Gasol has now missed one and a half games with a strained hamstring, and his availability for Game 5 will be a game-time decision.

So the -5.5 line for Cleveland could easily be higher or lower depending upon how the injuries play out in tonight’s game. James claims that his swollen ankle isn’t too severe, despite the treatment that he’s been getting.

Irving doesn’t sound like he’s going to be much healthier for Game 5 than he’s been for most of the series. “It’s just about finding ways to be more effective, especially being out there,” the Cavs point guard said. “I still can shoot. You still have to respect me out there. It’s not like they can just leave me or anything like that. But I just try to use myself as a decoy and make plays as best I can.”

derrick-rose-knee-injury-again-1Who’s going to shoot Well Tonight?

Besides injuries, both teams have suffered from very poor shooting. Call it good defense, or call it gimpy players, but both teams have taken turns being inconsistent. James and Irving combined for 12-of-40 shooting and 37 points last game, while the Bulls’ two offensive stars, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, combined for a more-respectable 19-of-44 and 50 points.

But Rose and Butler have also been guilty of two off nights during this series. That said, Game 5 could really come down to which All-Star pairing shoots the ball better from the field.

Can the Bulls Front Court find Consistency?

When Gasol is healthy, Chicago has the deepest front court in the league. However, down one man last game, the Bulls bigs just didn’t produce. Joakim Noah was actually the best shooter among the group with a 4-for-12 performance (8PTS), while Taj Gibson (2-of-7, 6PTS), Mike Dunleavy (1-of-7, 4PTS) and Nikola Mirotic (1-of-9, 4PTS) will all be hoping for much better days from the field.

This could certainly happen if Gasol plays tonight, as he’s been excellent at knocking down mid-range jumpers and spreading the floor for guys like Gibson and Noah to score inside. But if Gasol doesn’t play, then it allows Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov to stay in the paint against Gibson and Noah.

Final Score Prediction: Cleveland 93 – Chicago 90

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls Playoffs Betting

cavs-vs-bulls-playoffsThere’s a lot of basketball left to be played in the 2015 NBA Playoffs, but it already feels like a mini-championship is happening in the semifinals, with the Cleveland Cavaliers taking on the Chicago Bulls.

The big story going into this series will be how the Cavs suddenly look vulnerable after losing Kevin Love for the postseason due to a shoulder injury. Additionally, J.R. Smith will miss the first two games of the series with a suspension incurred from the Celtics series. This now gives Chicago a better chance to win against Cleveland, after losing three out of four regular season games to their bitter in-division rivals.

But exactly how good of a chance does the Bulls have of finally getting past their tormentor, LeBron James, in the East? Let’s look at both teams’ advantages and disadvantages, before coming to a consensus on who can win this thing.

How Chicago can win

There’s no better way to go into a new playoff series than by capping your last one off with a 54-point demolishing. Chicago’s 120-66 road victory over the Milwaukee Bucks showed just how dominant they can be ‘when on.’

joakim-noahThis was a team effort that showcased the tremendous depth of the Bulls, which is exactly why they can beat Cleveland. There’s no deeper frontcourt in the league since they boast Joakim Noah at center, along with Pau Gasol (PF/C), Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic all logging power forward minutes. This front court is so good that Mirotic, who’s at times looked like the most talented out of this group, doesn’t get the minutes that he deserves.

Then you come to the back court, where Derrick Rose mans the point and All-Star Jimmy Butler handles the shooting guard duties. Previously thought to be lost for the year, Rose came back from another knee injury and has at times looked like his former league MVP self. As for Butler, he’s been the offensive leader of this team, averaging 26.6 PPG against the Bucks. Throw in veteran and dead-eye three-point shooter Mike Dunleavy at small forward, and you have one very complete team that could wear the Cavs out.

Why Chicago will lose

Despite a myriad of talent at multiple positions, Chicago is one of the more-inconsistent teams in the NBA. A lot of this stems from the fact that the Bulls rely so much on Butler and Rose to generate offense; so when they’re off, Chicago is off. This much was clear from the Bucks’ Game 5 victory in Chicago, where Rose and Butler shot a combined 10-for-41, losing to a team that they should have waxed.

The inevitable victory did finally come in Milwaukee, but the guards’ shooting struggles, combined with the Bulls’ inability to find a good minutes rotation for their big men, made this a longer series than it needed to be. If the same problems persist, expect Chicago to go down in 6 games to Cleveland.

How Cleveland can win

lebron-james-benchKyrie Irving seems to be emerging as a true superstar, as he showed in the Boston series by hitting big shot after shot. Irving made 48% from thee-point range against the Celtics while averaging 23.3 PPG. And let’s not forget that he’s joined by the best player in the game in James. LeBron averaged a ‘quiet’ 27 points in the first round, while playing in cruise control at certain points.

There are certainly some good role players on this squad too, with Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson both providing great minutes in the front court, and Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith doing damage at the shooting guard position.

Why Cleveland will lose

Depth will be the biggest dilemma for Cleveland, especially with Smith out for the first two games. Without Love on the floor, Mozgov and Thompson will play extended minutes while aged veterans Kendrick Perkins and Shawn Marion may even be called upon more. Reserve guards James Jones and Matthew Dellavedova will be on the floor too, which doesn’t exactly match the overall talent that Chicago puts out there.

Final Prediction: Cavs in 7 Games

Regardless of their bench depth, Cleveland will have a rested LeBron and Irving playing 40+ minutes a game, which is mainly what they need to win what will be a close series. Be sure to catch Game 1 of this series at Monday at 7:00pm EST, and don’t forget to do your Cavs vs Bulls betting at