NBA Draft

Bulls keep rising closer to top as Suns, Warriors 1-2

Who should be No. 1?

Phoenix reached 30 wins faster than anyone, but is 4-4 in its last eight games and coming off a 23-point home defeat Saturday against Miami.

Golden State is only a half game behind the Suns through Saturday’s games and are finally getting back Klay Thompson, who missed two seasons with injuries.

Only one can be No. 1, but there continues to be a shakeup in the rest of the Top 5 of The Republic’s power rankings going into Sunday’s games.

1. Phoenix Suns (30-9, Last week 2nd)

After Saturday’s defeat to Miami, which had a laundry list of guys out starting with Jimmy Butler (ankle) and Bam Adebayo (thumb), this may not be a popular choice for the top spot.

However, the Suns had won three in a row before that by an average margin of 21.3 points without Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder and JaVale McGee as they missed games in the league’s health and safety protocols.

As Suns coach Monty Williams said after the Heat loss, “We’ve proven we know how to win games.”

The Suns begin a five-game road trip Tuesday in Toronto that was switched up as the NBA found dates for the postponed games during this surge of COVID-19 cases that has greatly impacted roster numbers.

Originally scheduled to play in Detroit after Toronto in a back-to-back, the Suns will now go to Indiana for a game Friday and play Jan. 16 against the Pistons. They’ll close the trip out as previously scheduled with San Antonio and Dallas.

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, left, talks with Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry before an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

2. Golden State Warriors (29-9, Last week 1st)

They’ve lost their last two going into Sunday’s game versus Cleveland.

So why isn’t that their major storyline?

The Warriors are getting their five-time All-Star back in Thompson, one of the game’s best shooters who can light it up from deep as well as the all-time leader in made 3s, Stephen Curry.

That’s cause for celebration in the Bay Area.

The question is how will he play after missing two seasons with season-ending knee and Achilles injuries?

It’s probably not wise to judge his play early in this comeback. By the All-Star break, we’ll all have a better idea where he is.

Jan. 7: Bulls guard Zach LaVine drives and puts up the off-balance shot in the lane against the Wizards.

3. Chicago Bulls (26-10, Last week 4th)

The Bulls have the league’s longest active winning streak of nine straight victories going into Sunday’s game at Dallas.

Again, Chicago has only beaten one team that currently has a winning record during this run of victories. That would be the Lakers, who have won four in a row going into Sunday’s game against Memphis.

Still nine in a row is nine in a row for top team in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls are 13th in defensive rating, which is about where they were last season when finishing 2020-21 at 12th. The difference is offensively as they’ve gone from being 21st in offensive rating to fourth this season.

They lead the league in 3-point percentage, second to only Utah in overall field goal percentage and third in free throws.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) gives an autograph for a fan as he leaves the court after warming up before an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler).

4. Utah Jazz (28-12, Last week 3rd)

Teams lose two a row all the time.

The Jazz doing so on the road against the Raptors and Pacers isn’t the worst thing. Toronto has won five in a row heading into Sunday’s game against the Pelicans.

Plus Utah was very shorthanded for that one.

They were without Rudy Gobert (protocols), Joe Ingles (protocols), Donovan Mitchell (back), Mike Conley (knee injury maintenance), Royce O’Neale (patellar tendonitis), Bojan Bogdanovic (finger sprain), Jordan Clarkson (back) and Rudy Gay (heel).

Now the loss in Indiana?

Six of those guys were back with Gobert and Ingles still out. They trailed by only two with 8:03 left in the game, but were outscored, 28-18, the rest of the way in an 125-113 loss.

Pistons forward Saddiq Bey looks for a shot against Bucks guard George Hill in the fourth quarter of the Pistons' 115-106 win on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Milwaukee.

5. Milwaukee Bucks (26-16, Last week 5th)

The Bucks and Nets entered their showdown matchup tied for 5th in the power rankings.

So even though Milwaukee is 1-3 in its last four, the win came at Brooklyn, which has Kyrie Irving back, but he can’t play at home without a vaccination shot for COVID-19.

New York has a mandate in which people must be vaccinated to enter large indoor events like a basketball game in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

So it strictly came down to that game to decide who stayed in the top five.

However, the home loss to Detroit wasn’t a good look for Milwaukee.

The Bucks had their Big 3 of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, but Saddiq Bey went for a career-high 34 and Josh Jackson scored 24 in 20 minutes in the upset win for Detroit.

Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash reacts with Kyrie Irving during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Next five

Brooklyn Nets (25-13) — How Steve Nash manages this situation of having Irving just for the road games will greatly determine how this all plays out. Still, the Nets have one of game’s best players back and if Irving decides at some point to get vaccinated?  

Memphis Grizzlies (27-14) — This team could easily be in the top five. Winners of eight straight going into Sunday’s game at the Lakers, Memphis won its last game minus Ja Morant (thigh), Steven Adams (protocols) and head coach Taylor Jenkins (protocols).

Miami Heat (25-15) — Huge victory over Phoenix on the back end of this six-game road trip that ends Wednesday in Atlanta. The Heat are 3-2 on the trip that actually was scheduled to start in San Antonio, but that game was postponed.

Miami Heat's Tyler Herro (14) drives around Phoenix Suns' Cameron Payne during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

Philadelphia 76ers (22-16) — Joel Embiid continues to have his way with the NBA of late as he’s averaging 33.1 points and 10.5 rebounds in this six-game win streak. He did finish second in the NBA MVP voting last year, you know. If Embiid stays healthy? 

Cleveland Cavaliers (22-17) — The Cavs are 3-5 in their last eight games, but Rajon Rondo played his first game with them since the trade. Shot poorly (2-of-9), but impacted Saturday’s win at Portland in other ways. Keep an eye on this moving forward.

One last thing

The top four teams in the West — Suns, Warriors, Jazz and Grizzlies — are pretty much locks. The only drama will be the order of finish.

The next five teams — Mavericks, Lakers, Nuggets, Timberwolves and Clippers — are separated by 2-½ games going into Sunday’s games.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard D'Angelo Russell (0) saves the ball beside Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (50) during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Minnesota Timberwolves at Paycom Center in Oklahoma City, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022.

The most dangerous team of that next five? Timberwolves. 

They’re not the best of this bunch, but Anthony Edwards is a stud. Karl-Anthony Towns one of the league’s best bigs and D’Angelo Russell as a third option is pretty darn good.

If their remaining guys can play consistent, the T-Wolves can be one of the two teams that emerges from the play-in tournament and make a first-round series very interesting.

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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