Bulls' defense, Sixers' dominance, and other Week 3 observations
Following a week where opposing teams found it impossible to penetrate Chicago's pesky defense, the Bulls soared to the top of the NBA power rankings.
Chicago allowed 68 points to the Pistons, and 64 points to both the Wizards and Raptors, part of a dominant 5-0 week.
So far this season, each of the Bulls' losses have come in the second half of back-to-backs, a surprising road loss to the Warriors on the season's second day, and a road loss to the Hawks one night after dominating the Magic. Otherwise, Chicago has been perfect, their 12 wins marked by a 40-point win over the Grizzlies, wins over both the Lakers and Clippers, and an NBA-best 83.8 points allowed per game.
What's been most remarkable about the Bulls' early success has been where they've been doing it: on the road. The Bulls, one of just two teams (the Lakers being the other) to have already played 14 games, are 7-2 on the road and 5-0 at home. They are the league's only team to have played nine road games, and are one of only three teams with five or more wins away from home.
Even more promising is Chicago minimizing its reliance on Derrick Rose. Rose, a season after averaging 25 points per game, is averaging just 20.8 per night this season. Providing Rose with other options on offense -- namely a resurgent Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and the newly-acquired Richard Hamilton -- will help keep the point guard both healthy and fresh over this season's packed schedule.
Easily the league's most impressive team so far, the Bulls are two weeks away from a Jan. 29 date with the Heat in Miami, definitely a match-up to circle on the calendar.
A few other observations from the power rankings:
Heat only fall two spots after 0-3 week
Playing their third, fourth and fifth consecutive road games, Miami fell flat last week, losing overtime games to Golden State and the Clippers, then falling by 13 in Denver. Clearly, there is still discord late in games, with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade each looking very human when the game is close. In the loss to Los Angeles, for example, the Heat didn't hit a field goal from 7:31 left in the fourth quarter until 1:24 left in overtime. Still, dropping Miami further than third doesn't make sense quite yet. Wade isn't 100 percent, the Heat played five road games in nine days, and you can't forget just how dominant Miami looked at 8-1. They'll bounce back.
Sixers point differential is other-worldly
After another dominant week -- including a 10-point win over Indiana, 27-point win over Sacramento, 31-point win over Washington, then 13-point win over Washington -- the Sixers improved their point differential to +15.2 per game. The mark puts them 4.9 points better than second-best Chicago. Each of Philly's three losses have been excusable, too, with two losses on a season-opening west coast swing, and a loss to the Knicks on the third game of a back-to-back-to-back. Philadelphia's lineup is engineered perfectly for the 2011-12 season: a young core, plenty of depth off the bench and great defenders. Even better, a very friendly portion of the schedule is coming up for the 76ers, with 13 of their next 15 games at home. The first week of February will give us a concrete idea of where Philadelphia sits among the elite, with the Sixers taking on Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, the Lakers, San Antonio, and the Clippers in consecutive games.
Hawks, Magic, Jazz three teams to watch
It's worth keeping an eye on the trio for different reasons. First, in Atlanta, the Hawks lost their most important player -- Al Horford -- for 3-4 months. Zaza Pachulia is a good stopgap, but he doesn't seem to be enough to keep Atlanta competitive with the likes of Chicago, Miami and Philadelphia. Still, the Hawks are 2-0 since losing Horford. Orlando and Utah, meanwhile, are two of the league's teams off to the most surprising starts. The Magic looked to be a disgruntled Dwight Howard and a bunch of role players at the beginning of the year. Those role players have clicked, though, and Stan Van Gundy's system, which thrives when guys are knocking down threes, has clicked. Utah, meanwhile, was supposed to be rebuilding. Instead, the Jazz are 8-4, featuring wins over Philadelphia, Memphis and Denver. Are Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap enough to keep them winning?
Two distinct classes of teams so far
Look at the power rankings, and you see a clear dropoff betwen No. 15 (Memphis) and No. 16 (Minnesota). Maybe a product of the tight schedule and the brief offseason, but in the early going, there have been 15 impressive teams, and 15 underwhelming teams. Sure, that line may jump -- the Jazz could fall back to earth, and Minnesota, Boston and the Knicks could get hot -- but we may wind up with a very divided NBA come season's end.