In this latest edition of 2012 NBA Power Rankings, the Chicago Bulls have finally jumped the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 1 overall spot, while undrafted point guard Jeremy Lin has taken over as the starter for the New York Knicks and has made an immediate impact. In the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets have taken a hit since Danilo Gallinari suffered an ankle injury and George Karl's squad has dropped seven of their last nine games. The Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder have risen to the top of the conference in the meantime, while the San Antonio Spurs continue their ascent thanks to stellar play from point guard Tony Parker.
Younger teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz have failed to sustain their impressive play from the previous weeks, but all three still find themselves within striking distance of premium playoffs seeds. Finally, for what seems like the umpteenth week in a row, the Milwaukee Bucks rank in the middle of the pack in nearly every listed category of advanced stats. To get a detailed look at the NBA landscape, check out the the current version of my NBA Power Rankings.
The Chicago Bulls Are King Of The Hill. I wrote this story about the Bulls on Friday, but it basically explains everything you need to know about why the Bulls are so good (and why they absolutely deserve the No. 1 spot despite facing the second-lowest strength of schedule in the entire NBA):
The Chicago Bulls haven't just been beating teams on the road recently, they have beendestroying them. In just the past week during their nine-game road trip, the Bulls (23-6) have beaten the Milwaukee Bucks by 23, the New Jersey Nets by 21, the New Orleans Hornets by 23 and the Charlotte Bobcats by 31 points. As it turns out, road dominance of that caliber in the NBA has never been seen before.
Elias Sports Bureau points out the the Bulls are the first team in NBA history to win four straight games on the road, all by 20 or more points. In fact, no other NBA team has even accomplish that feat for three games in a row, meaning the Bulls broke their own record with their blowout win over the Bobcats on Friday night.
The defensive prowess of Bulls is not exactly a secret around the NBA. Tom Thibodeau has his team playing with the highest defensive efficiency in the NBA for the season-to-date, and the unit forces opponents to take the highest percentage of long two-point attempts out of any defense in the league. Furthermore, Elias also points out that the Bulls are the first team to hold opponents under 70 points at least six times in a season since 2003-04, when Ben Wallace and the Detroit Pistons did so 11 times and Tim Duncan's San Antonio Spurs did so six times.
All hail the Bulls.
The Jeremy Lin Show. If you haven't heard by now, I assume you are in jail...or dead. The undrafted point guard from Harvard looked for all the world like a fringe NBA player. He had even been released by the Golden State Warriors to clear space for a successful run at Kwame Brown in the free agent market, for crying out loud. He managed to land on the Knicks' roster, but even New York considered dumping him before the Tuesday deadline where unguaranteed contracts vested in full. He's still sleeping on his brother's couch in NYC, but now he's the starting point guard for the Knicks, too.
How good has Lin been? His 89 points through the first three starts of his NBA career is the most by any NBA player since the 1976-77 league merger, according to Elias. After a disastrous 8-15 start to the season, the Knicks have now won five straight games and are back in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Lin's efficiency has been a huge reason for the sudden leap. He has scored 20+ points and dished out 7+ assists in each of the last five games, and is doing it all on 58.0% True Shooting. That's just plain bananas. If you haven't made time to seek out a Knicks game yet, be sure to do so. Lin's sudden rise is easily the best story in the NBA so far this season.