Jabari and giannis comine for 58 points in win over the bulls

Jabari And Giannis Combine For 58 Points In Win Over Bulls
December 15, 2016 by Luka Dukich
The Bulls, at least, gave them a scare. The Bulls Thursday came back from a 26-point third quarter deficit and 20 in the fourth quarter to get within eight points with three minutes left. But the Bucks held on for a 108-97 victory over the Bulls.
The Bulls were led by Jimmy Butler with 21 points, Dwayne Wade with 20 and Taj Gibson with 19.
It was the first of a Bulls/Bucks back to back with the Bucks in the United Center Friday. The Bulls fell to 13-12 while the Bucks are 12-12.
The Bulls got Rajon Rondo back from his sprained ankle and missing a game, but it was the Bucks who got back the running game as they had a 10-0 fast break advantage in the first quarter, Jabari Parker with a pair of run out dunks for a 30-18 Milwaukee lead after one quarter. Parker had 28 points. The Bucks got surprising perimeter shooting from Giannis Antetokounmpo, making his first three jump shots and both threes in the first quarter as he and Parker each had a dozen points. He led the Bucks with 30 points. The Bulls couldn’t get much going as coach Fred Hoiberg again altered the rotation with Bobby Portis off the bench first and Denzel Valentine getting first quarter playing time. The Bucks led 16-8 and closed the quarter with an Antetokounmpo three with a second left after a Bulls shot clock violation and failing to get back again.
And then it got worse as the Bulls committed four consecutive turnovers early in the second quarter and Bucks reserve Mirza Teletovic hit a pair of threes and scored on a three-point play as the Bucks blew out to a 49-26 lead five minutes into the second quarter. The Bucks continues to run and dunk like it was a playground game, ahead 58-31 with three minutes left in the half after a Tony Snell dunk over Gibson. That was the biggest Milwaukee lead. Though Gibson kept the Bulls in the game with his interior scoring, 17 first half points as the Bulls climbed back within 64-45 at halftime after a 14-6 close to the second quarter. But it was a tough first half for the Bulls with 10 turnovers for 16 Bucks points, 14-4 Milwaukee on fast breaks and 55 percent Bucks shooting with eight of 10 three pointers. The Bulls were one of nine on threes.
The third quarter began no better for the Bulls as they fouled their way into the penalty three minutes into the quarter and fell back behind 76-50 after another turnover led to a fast break dunk. But they finally began to show aggression with Butler hammering his way to the basket for a basket and four free throws than enabled the Bulls to get back within 84-64 with two minutes left in the third quarter as Hoiberg stayed with the same rotation with Nikola Mirotic getting his first did not play. After three quarters, the Bulls still trailed 88-66. The wakeup call then came in as with Wade awakening, the Bulls went on a 12-0 run to get within 95-81 with seven minutes left. Antetokounmpo broke the run, but the Bulls were suddenly a different team hustling, and attacking the basket to get within 101-92 on a Doug McDermott three with 4:13 left.

power rankings

We went into this season thinking that the that the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers were head and shoulders above the rest of their respective conferences.

In the first quarter of the season, the LA Clippers and Toronto Raptors have both, for the most part, proven to be solid No. 2 teams in the West and East. But last week, the Warriors and Cavs kept those opponents in their place. On Monday, the champs beat the Raptors for the third time (by four points or less) this season. Then on Wednesday, the Warriors were up 20 points before the end of the first quarter in their first meeting with the Clips.

The Warriors did get beat by the Memphis Grizzlies, who get two shots at the Cavs this week. And both teams have some unfinished business against other teams (like the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls) within their conference. But with 13 days until their Christmas Day Finals rematch, Golden State and Cleveland have clearly maintained their status as the teams to beat in each conference.

  • Hero team of the week: Memphis (4-0) — The Grizzlies were doing their win-close-games-against-bad-teams thing until they went and thumped the Warriors on Saturday. They’re no longer just trying to hold on without Mike Conley.
  • Zero team of the week: L.A. Lakers (0-4) — The Lakers have been dealing with injuries and playing some good teams, but their six-game losing streak includes a loss at home to Phoenix.
  • East vs. West: The West is 73-66 (.525) against the East in interconference games, but the East was 12-11 last week. The Warriors (6-0) are the only team without at least one win and one loss against the opposite conference.
  • Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Dallas, 2. Miami, 3. L.A. Lakers
  • Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Memphis, 2. Golden State, 3. Milwaukee
  • Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
  • High jumps of the week: Washington (+5), Atlanta (+4), Memphis (+4)
  • Free falls of the week: Boston (-4), L.A. Lakers (-3), Eight teams (-2)
  • Team to watch this week: Memphis — The No. 1 defensive team in the league puts a six-game winning streak on the line with a home-and-home against Cleveland’s third-ranked offense and finishes its week with a big Western Conference game against Utah.

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Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)

The league is averaging 98.9 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 104.4 points scored per 100 possessions this season.

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NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.

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1
Last week:
1

Record: 21-4
Pace: 102.6 (3) OffRtg: 114.2 (1) DefRtg: 102.3 (10) NetRtg:+11.9 (1)

The Warriors had some serious highs and lows last week, but it’s far to say that the former outweighed the latter. Saturday’s visit to Memphis brought their worst offensive game of the season, with 23 turnovers and just 15 assists. But against Indiana on Monday, their third best scorer dropped 60 points in three quarters. There was a 37-19 first quarter in L.A. on Wednesday, a 19-1 run in the first quarter in Utah a night later, and a 25-4 start to the fourth quarter in Minnesota on Sunday. The avalanche comes more often than not and it’s near impossible to stop.

This week: @ NOP, vs. NYK, vs. POR

2
Last week:
5

Record: 17-5
Pace: 99.2 (14) OffRtg: 112.0 (3) DefRtg: 104.7 (17) NetRtg:+7.3 (4)

After scoring less than a point per possession over their three-game losing streak, the Cavs have scored 123 per 100 over a four-game winning streak, with LeBron James averaging 32.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists (and making 18 of his 34 shots from outside the paint over the last three). So it’s a good time for a home-and-home series with the new No. 1 defense in the league. Though DeAndre Liggins played well in J.R. Smith’s absence for two games, Ty Lue kept his rotation short upon Smith’s return, handing Mike Dunleavy a DNP in Saturday’s win over Charlotte.

This week: vs. MEM, @ MEM, vs. LAL

3
Last week:
2

Record: 19-5
Pace: 95.9 (27) OffRtg: 108.1 (6) DefRtg: 101.7 (8) NetRtg: +6.5 (6)

Thursday’s loss in Chicago wasn’t only the Spurs’ first defeat on the road (after a 13-0 start). It also ended an 11-game winning streak in games that were within five points in the last five minutes (though they never led). Their defense still isn’t nearly at the level it was last season, but has allowed less than a point per possession over the last seven games to get back into the top 10 on that end of the floor. Tony Parker has been in and out of the lineup, but Patty Mills has remained a reserve and has averaged 15.7 points on 50 percent shooting over the last three games.

This week: vs. BOS, @ PHX, vs. NOP

4
Last week:
3

Record: 16-7
Pace: 97.3 (23) OffRtg: 114.2 (2) DefRtg: 104.4 (15) NetRtg:+9.8 (3)

The Raptors played another close game against the Cavs, but have now lost five straight (going back to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals) to the champs, who they don’t play again until the last night of the season. Their mediocre starting lineup was a minus-17 in that game, one of three that they trailed by double-digits last week. But they’re 16-3 against teams that weren’t in The Finals six months ago after comeback wins over the Wolves and Celtics. The two teams essentially tied for the best OffRtg in the league are the team – Golden State – with the highest assist percentage in 13 years and the team – Toronto – with the seventh lowest assist rate in the same span. There’s more than one way to score efficiently.

This week: vs. MIL, @ PHI, vs. ATL, @ ORL

5
Last week:
6

Record: 17-7
Pace: 99.8 (11) OffRtg: 110.9 (4) DefRtg: 105.0 (19) NetRtg:+5.8 (7)

The offense has been the story all season in Houston, but after holding their opponent under a point per possession just three times through their first 20 games, they’ve done it in each of their last three. They have a six-game winning streak with the league’s fourth best defense in December, thanks in part to Patrick Beverley’s defense on Russell Westbrook (who shot 8-for-25) in Friday’s win in Oklahoma City. Eric Gordon has now hit at least three 3-pointers in nine straight games, shooting 52 percent from beyond over that stretch. And three of the Rockets’ next four opponents rank in the bottom 10 in 3-point defense.

This week: vs. BKN, vs. SAC, vs. NOP, @ MIN

6
Last week:
4

Record: 17-7
Pace: 98.7 (18) OffRtg: 110.1 (5) DefRtg: 100.2 (2) NetRtg: +9.8 (2)

The Clippers played the Warriors even over the last three quarters on Wednesday, but that didn’t matter after a first periodin which they had more turnovers (nine – seven that were live balls) than baskets (eight). That was their seventh straight loss to Golden State, but the first in which a former Warrior called out his current team for complaining too much. Chris Paul pushed his assist-to-turnover ratio back over 4.0 with 20 (an NBA season high) and zero in Saturday’s win over New Orleans (played without Blake Griffin), the Clips’ most efficient offensive game of the season.

This week: vs. POR, @ ORL, @ MIA, @ WAS

7
Last week:
11

Record: 17-8
Pace: 95.7 (28) OffRtg: 99.8 (27) DefRtg: 99.5 (1) NetRtg: +0.2 (14)

The Grizzlies have won six straight games for the second time this season. The first five wins on this streak were by a total of 13 points over five opponents that have losing records. The sixth was by 21 … over the Warriors, Golden State’s worst offensive game of the season. They’ve earned that No. 1 ranking on defense and must continue to earn it, as that was just the second game of a stretch where they’re playing seven of nine games against top-10 offenses. Marc Gasol has averaged 25.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists over the winning streak and while Toney Douglas has only 17 points with Memphis, seven of the 17 came in the final minute of Thursday’s two-point win over Portland. So he’s fitting in just fine.

This week: @ CLE, vs. CLE, vs. SAC, vs. UTA

8
Last week:
9

Record: 15-10
Pace: 93.7 (30) OffRtg: 107.8 (7) DefRtg: 101.3 (5) NetRtg: +6.6 (5)

The Jazz have missed a total of 39 games from four starters, and all four missed Thursday’s loss to Golden State. But the additions they made to their bench have paid off and the fifth starter has been much improved. Rudy Gobert ranks third in rim protection(having defended almost four more shots at the rim per game than the top two guys), has grabbed 10-plus rebounds in 10 straight games, and has averaged 18.3 points over his last four(though only one of his 23 baskets has come from outside the restricted area). That’s the highest four-game scoring average of his career. With games against the two teams directly ahead of them in the standings this week, it would be nice for the Jazz to get George Hill (toe) and/or Rodney Hood (hamstring) back.

This week: vs. OKC, vs. DAL, @ MEM

9
Last week:
10

Record: 15-9
Pace: 101.5 (5) OffRtg: 102.9 (17) DefRtg: 101.5 (7) NetRtg:+1.4 (13)

Russell Westbrook ran his triple-double streak to seven games, but the Thunder’s winning streak came to an end when he missed a free throw to tie and three shots for the lead against Houston on Friday. So he went back to just a regular (and spectacular) double-double (37, 12 and six) in Sunday’s win over Boston. Lost in the streak was that the Thunder defense ranks third since Thanksgiving and that they’ve managed not to lose leads with Westbrook off the floor in that time. Victor Oladipo’s week started with a nasty dunk over Dwight Howard and ended with a nasty fall over Jonas Jerebko.

This week: @ POR, @ UTA, vs. PHX

10
Last week:
8

Record: 13-10
Pace: 97.9 (20) OffRtg: 105.0 (12) DefRtg: 102.3 (9) NetRtg:+2.7 (9)

Despite the return of Doug McDermott, the Bulls’ 3-point shooting remains awful (22 percent over their last eight games), resulting in some erratic offensive performances over the last couple of weeks. They’ve also lost eight straight fourth quarters. But they were the first team this season to win a home game against the Spurs because they got 22 more free throws than San Antonio on Thursday. Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler averaged 20.5 free throws between them over their four games last week and the Bulls are one of four teams that ranks in the top 10 in both free throw rate (where they’re the most improved team from last season) and opponent free throw rate.

This week: vs. MIN, @ MIL, vs. MIL

11
Last week:
7

Record: 13-11
Pace: 98.3 (19) OffRtg: 106.5 (9) DefRtg: 104.5 (16) NetRtg:+2.1 (10)

The Celtics’ starting lineup hasn’t been bad and Avery Bradley has made 10 of his 16 threes as Isaiah Thomas has missed the last three games with a groin strain (with Marcus Smart starting in the backcourt). But the bench has had issues and they blew leads of 14 and 13 points to the Raptors and Thunder over the weekend. Prior to that, they blew an eight-point, fourth-quarter lead in Houston and Al Horford blew a layup for the win. With that kind of week, they lost their status as the league’s best fourth-quarter team to the team – Toronto – they’re clearly still a step behind in the Atlantic Division.

This week: @ SAS, vs. CHA, @ MIA

12
Last week:
14

Record: 14-10
Pace: 99.1 (15) OffRtg: 104.6 (13) DefRtg: 101.3 (6) NetRtg:+3.3 (8)

The Hornets remain the best third-quarter team in the leagueand, as a result, are one of two teams (the Spurs are the other) with a winning record (7-6) after trailing at halftime. But they were one of four East teams that the Cavs kept in the rear view mirror last week, unable to slow down LeBron James on Saturday. The Hornets themselves are three games into a critical stretch where they’re playing 13 of 14 games within the East, so seeing Kemba Walker go down after colliding with James in the fourth quarter was a huge scare. But he should be OK for the rest of their five-game trip.

This week: @ IND, @ WAS, @ BOS, @ ATL

13
Last week:
16

Record: 14-10
Pace: 99.1 (16) OffRtg: 105.1 (11) DefRtg: 107.9 (26) NetRtg:-2.8 (19)

The Knicks got humbled by the Cavs on Wednesday, have a bottom-five defense, and are the only team with a winning record and a negative point differential. But they’re beating the teams they’re supposed to, now holding an 11-2 record (and eight straight wins) against teams currently under .500. Carmelo Anthony took advantage of being defended by Miami’s makeshift small forwards on Tuesday and by the Kings on Friday. When he had a rough night (4-for-16) in L.A. on Sunday, Derrick Rose came back from a two-game absence and looked terrific in scoring 25 points on 12-for-16 shooting.

This week: @ PHX, @ GSW, @ DEN

14
Last week:
12

Record: 13-13
Pace: 96.0 (26) OffRtg: 102.6 (21) DefRtg: 100.6 (4) NetRtg:+1.9 (12)

Reggie Jackson has shot just 35 percent in his first five games of the season, but the Pistons’ results in those five games have been more about how they’ve performed with Jackson off the floor. In the two wins, they were a plus-28 in 49 minutes with Jackson on the bench. In the three losses, they were a minus-35 in 67 minutes with him on the bench. And two of those losses were against teams – Orlando and Philadelphia – with two of the six worst benches in the league. This week’s opponents are all in that group too, with Saturday’s game against Indiana a big matchup in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

This week: @ DAL, @ WAS, vs. IND

15
Last week:
13

Record: 12-12
Pace: 100.2 (9) OffRtg: 103.0 (16) DefRtg: 105.6 (21) NetRtg:-2.7 (18)

The Pacers had bench issues earlier in the season, but their starting lineup was a minus-43 in four games last week, allowing 126 points per 100 possessions. Paul George saved Saturday’s game against Portland with a personal 13-4 run down the stretch and is now shooting 59 percent in the clutch, the second best mark among players with at least 20 attempts. He had shot a brutal 17 percent on shots in the last minute with the game within three over the last five seasons, but is 2-for-5 on those shots this season after following up his own miss with a big dunk on Saturday.

This week: vs. CHA, @ MIA, @ NOP, @ DET

16
Last week:
20

Record: 12-12
Pace: 101.4 (6) OffRtg: 99.8 (26) DefRtg: 100.5 (3) NetRtg: -0.7 (15)

After scoring less than a point per possession in 11 straight games, the Hawks broke out for 108 per 100 in wins over the Heat and Bucks last week (recording a season-high 32 assists on Friday). Dwight Howard had a big game (23 and 17) against Hassan Whiteside, Dennis Schroder (33 points) had a big game against Milwaukee, and Paul Millsap has been really good since returning from a three-game absence. Kent Bazemore’s absence in the last two games has meant that Kyle Korver is still a de facto starter coming off the bench.

This week: vs. ORL, @ TOR, vs. CHA

17
Last week:
15

Record: 11-11
Pace: 99.5 (12) OffRtg: 104.6 (14) DefRtg: 102.5 (11) NetRtg:+2.0 (11)

The Bucks’ last five games have all been within five points in the last five minutes. And while their offense has been generally good over those five games, it’s had some ugly stretches late. They committed three brutal turnovers in the final two minutes of Monday’s loss to San Antonio and shot 3-for-19 in the last five minutes of weekend losses to Atlanta and Washington that knocked them out of playoff position, with their next five games against teams with winning records. They rank 29th in offensive efficiency in the clutch, ahead of only Sacramento.

This week: @ TOR, vs. CHI, @ CHI

18
Last week:
17

Record: 12-13
Pace: 100.7 (8) OffRtg: 107.2 (8) DefRtg: 109.5 (28) NetRtg:-2.3 (17)

In Memphis on Thursday, the Grizzlies did their best to take the ball out of Damian Lillard’s and C.J. McCollum’s hands, and their teammates shot 24 percent (including 1-for-17 from 3-point range). In Indiana on Saturday, Lillard (first period) and McCollum (third) each scored 19 points in a quarter, but the Blazers’ defense couldn’t hold on to a 20-point lead. They’ve lost three straight and finish their five-game trip with a visit to the Clippers. The last time they were at Stapes Center (Nov. 9), they were down 48 points in the third quarter.

This week: @ LAC, vs. OKC, @ DEN, @ GSW

19
Last week:
19

Record: 10-15
Pace: 96.7 (24) OffRtg: 98.0 (29) DefRtg: 103.5 (12) NetRtg:-5.6 (26)

After a 4-1 road trip in which they allowed just 98 points per 100 possessions, the Magic have lost three straight games, allowing 121 and getting destroyed in the paint (by a cumulative score of 170-90). When you have the league’s fourth lowest effective field goal percentage outside the paint (44.4 percent) and big frontline, you need to win the paint battle. But no team has been outscored in the paint this season more than the Magic and their paint discrepancy has been worst with their current starting frontline – Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo – on the floor together.

Magic have been destroyed in the paint w/ Biyombo & Ibaka on the floor together. Not good when you have 4th lowest eFG% outside the paint.

This week: @ ATL, vs. LAC, vs. BKN, vs. TOR

20
Last week:
25

Record: 9-13
Pace: 99.2 (13) OffRtg: 103.3 (15) DefRtg: 105.3 (20) NetRtg:-2.0 (16)

The only game the Wizards lost in their last four was the one (vs. Orlando on Tuesday) in which John Wall scored 52 points. Maybe Scott Brooks needed to play Wall with Bradley Beal, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Otto Porter for more than 16 seconds in that game. That group (playing mostly with Marcin Gortat) was a plus-23 in 22 minutes in wins over Denver and Milwaukee on Thursday and Saturday. Oubre scored a career-high 19 points in the Milwaukee win and Porter ranks fifth in true shooting percentage among 113 players who have taken at least 200 shots.

This week: @ MIA, vs. CHA, vs. DET, vs. LAC

21
Last week:
18

Record: 10-16
Pace: 101.7 (4) OffRtg: 102.9 (18) DefRtg: 109.7 (30) NetRtg:-6.8 (27)

D’Angelo Russell’s return from an 11-game absence and a (rare) good shooting game from Luol Deng against the Knicks on Sunday weren’t enough to stop the Lakers’ losing streak, which has now reached six games and taken them back to familiar territory: No. 30 in defensive efficiency. It may not be a great time for their longest road trip of the season (seven games), but four of the seven opponents have bottom-10 offenses and only one (Cleveland) ranks in the top 10 offensively.

This week: @ SAC, @ BKN, @ PHI, @ CLE

22
Last week:
22

Record: 8-15
Pace: 97.6 (22) OffRtg: 102.7 (19) DefRtg: 105.8 (22) NetRtg:-3.1 (21)

Dave Joerger is still searching. Ben McLemore went from three straight DNPs to three straight starts (in which he shot 7-for-23) last week, but finishes were more important than starts over the weekend. The Kings fell to 4-11 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes with Friday’s loss to the Knicks (in which DeMarcus Cousins missed a layup for the lead with 21 seconds left). Then they shot 3-for-22 in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s loss in Utah. They’ve lost five of their last six games, with Cousins shooting less than 40 percent in that stretch.

This week: vs. LAL, @ HOU, @ MEM, @ DAL

23
Last week:
21

Record: 7-17
Pace: 96.2 (25) OffRtg: 100.2 (25) DefRtg: 104.1 (14) NetRtg:-3.9 (23)

The Heat have lost five straight games, completing a stretch where they played 10 of 13 on the road. They allowed 110 points per 100 possessions over those 13 games after allowing just 97 through their first 11 (with Justise Winslow’s continued absence being important context). They’re still banged up, but a six-game homestand (their longest of the season) that begins Monday may be their last chance to get back to being competitive in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Four of the six games are against teams that are .500 or below.

This week: vs. WAS, vs. IND, vs. LAC, vs. BOS

24
Last week:
26

Record: 9-15
Pace: 101.4 (7) OffRtg: 102.6 (20) DefRtg: 106.6 (24) NetRtg:-4.0 (24)

The Nuggets have had an interesting road trip to say the least. They had a brutal start (trailing by 29 at one point) in Brooklyn on Wednesday and a brutal finish (four points and nine turnovers in their final 21 possessions) in Washington on Thursday. Kenneth Faried was DNP-CD’d in that Washington loss, but came back to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds off the bench in Saturday’s win in Orlando. With one more game left on the trip, they’re a plus-55 with Jameer Nelson on the floor and a minus-49 with Emmanuel Mudiay on the floor through the first five games.

This week: @ DAL, vs. POR, vs. NYK

25
Last week:
23

Record: 8-17
Pace: 99.9 (10) OffRtg: 100.4 (24) DefRtg: 104.0 (13) NetRtg:-3.6 (22)

Alvin Gentry went with a lineup of four guards – Tim Frazier, Langston Galloway, Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore – plus Anthony Davis for the final seven minutes of Sunday’s win in Phoenix. The group wasn’t great, but managed to get enough stops in overtime to end the Pelicans’ five-game losing streak and survive one of Davis’ worst games of the season. Two of those guys – Holiday and Moore – had been unavailable for the previous three games. Buddy Hield remained in the starting lineup after the pair returned and has hit at least two threes in five straight games, but has shot 5-for-17 in the paint over that stretch.

This week: vs. GSW, vs. IND, @ HOU, @ SAS

26
Last week:
24

Record: 6-18
Pace: 97.7 (21) OffRtg: 106.1 (10) DefRtg: 109.2 (27) NetRtg:-3.1 (20)

This rough stretch of schedule (bookended by close-but-not-close-enough losses to the Warriors) has hit the Wolves hard. They’ve lost eight of their last nine games, allowing more than 117 points per 100 possessions, including 124 in the fourth quarter, which they lost by a combined score of 142-90 in four games last week. Better defense has to start in transition and this week’s two opponents rank in the top six in fast break points per game. The Wolves do have a much-needed, three-day break after Tuesday’s game in Chicago, but the really winnable games don’t come until next week.

This week: @ CHI, vs. HOU

27
Last week:
27

Record: 7-17
Pace: 103.9 (1) OffRtg: 101.6 (22) DefRtg: 106.7 (25) NetRtg:-5.0 (25)

Eric Bledsoe has had two straight big games (62 total points against the Lakers and Pelicans over the weekend), Tyson Chandler (41 rebounds over the last three games) has looked strong, and the Suns’ latest starting lineup was pretty strong defensively last week (with P.J. Tucker again slowing down Anthony Davis). The bench helped them erase a 23-point deficit (before falling down the stretch) in Utah on Tuesday, but had issues as they blew a 15-point lead to the Pelicans on Sunday. Though that game went to overtime, Brandon Knight played a season-low 16 minutes.

This week: vs. NYK, vs. SAS, @ OKC

28
Last week:
30

Record: 6-18
Pace: 98.8 (17) OffRtg: 96.8 (30) DefRtg: 104.9 (18) NetRtg:-8.1 (29)

The Sixers are on their second winning streak of the season, picking up road wins Nos. 1 and 2 in New Orleans and Detroit. They rank fifth defensively over the last three-plus weeks and could continue to rise on that end of the floor with five straight games against below-average offenses after Wednesday’s visit from the Raptors and only one back-to-back in the next month. But Joel Embiid is dealing with an elbow injury and Nerlens Noel turned an ankle in the first half of his season debut on Sunday.

This week: vs. TOR, vs. LAL, vs. BKN

29
Last week:
28

Record: 6-16
Pace: 103.9 (2) OffRtg: 101.0 (23) DefRtg: 109.6 (29) NetRtg:-8.6 (30)

The Nets can get three-happy at times, but clearly made an effort to get into the paint more often last week, the first time they’ve taken more than half of their shots in the paint in three straight games. Of course, Wednesday’s wire-to-wire win over Denver was sandwiched by another brutal third quarter against Washington and a thumping at the hands of the Spurs. They could get their primary paint attacker back on Monday, as Jeremy Lin, having missed the last 17 games, is listed as “probable” for their visit to Houston.

This week: @ HOU, vs. LAL, @ ORL, @ PHI

30
Last week:
29

Record: 5-18
Pace: 93.9 (29) OffRtg: 98.2 (28) DefRtg: 106.0 (23) NetRtg:-7.9 (28)

Wesley Matthews’ shooting has improved as the season has gone on, and no player has more 3-pointers over their team’s last five games. But with Andrew Bogut going down with a knee injury in the first quarter of Monday’s loss to Charlotte, the Mavs’ problems have gone from offense to defense, where they allowed 118 points per 100 possessions in four games last week. They’ve allowed just 95.3 in Bogut’s 400 minutes on the floor and 112.0 in 714 minutes with him off the floor. Of course, with a lot of players being added to the eligible-to-be-traded list on Thursday and the Mavs going nowhere, Bogut (in the last year of a reasonable contract) is (and will continue to be) the subject of trade rumors.

This week: vs. DEN, vs. DET, @ UTA, vs. SAC

Homosexuality in football: Three players speaking to FA about coming out, says MP

Three players are in contact with the Football Association about coming out as gay, according to MP John Nicolson.

He made the comments during a Department of Culture, Media and Sport hearing into homophobia in sport.

In October, FA chairman Greg Clarke told MPs that Premier League players would suffer “significant abuse” if they chose to reveal they are gay.

Speaking to Nicolson, sports minister Tracey Crouch said “there has never been a better time” to come out.

She told MPs that Clarke’s comments were “incredibly disappointing” and “strange”, adding: “If someone were to decide to come out, they should feel like they are being supported by the authorities and that any abuse would be tackled.”

In response, Nicolson said that Clarke had been invited back to present an action plan to MPs, because it was “not good enough” to say an openly gay player would suffer abuse.

“I understand three players are in talks with the FA about coming out and they haven’t done so yet,” said Scottish National Party MP Nicolson. “It’s good to know that you’re encouraging people to come out.”

Justin Fashanu became the first player in England to come out as gay in 1990, but took his own life aged 37 in 1998. No male professional player has come out while playing in England since.

Former Germany and Aston Villa player Thomas Hitzlsperger became the first player with Premier League experience to publicly reveal his homosexuality, in January 2014, after he had finished playing in England.

Former England women’s captain Casey Stoney was the first active footballer to come out in England since Fashanu, in February 2014.

In October, a BBC Radio 5 live study found that 82% of football supporterswould have no issue with their club signing a gay player.

However, 8% of fans said they would stop watching their team.

Take part in our new Premier League Predictor game, which allows you to create leagues with friends._92952957_thomashitzlsperger

Dylan Hartley: England captain backed by RFU boss Ian Ritchie

_92952340_gettyimages-516572920Hooker Hartley, 30, will find out on Wednesday if he will be available for the Six Nations next year after he was sent off for the third time in his career while playing for Northampton.

In total, Hartley has served 54 weeks of suspension during his career.

“I think Dylan’s got credit in the bank,” Ritchie told BBC Sport.

“I think most people would say it’s been a fantastic year. We’ve had 13 wins out of 13 and Dylan has made a huge contribution and he should be allowed to continue that.”

Former England head coach Stuart Lancaster dropped Hartley from his 2015 World Cup squad after the player headbutted Saracens’ Jamie George.

But he was reinstated as captain when Eddie Jones succeeded Lancaster in November 2015, and England remain unbeaten under the Australian.

Hartley returned to his club in October, following the autumn internationals, and came on as a replacement in Friday’s 37-10 defeat by Leinster in the European Champions Cup.

But after only six minutes on the pitch he was shown a red card for a swinging arm on Sean O’Brien and will now appear at an independent hearing to find out his punishment.

“Obviously it’s disappointing when he gets sent off but we’ll wait and see what happens,” RFU chief executive Ritchie added.

“If he’s eligible to be in contention for the Six Nations then it’s a matter for Eddie.

“He’s been a great leader and his performances on the pitch, and the way he’s helped Eddie with the team… I think he’s done a fantastic job.

“Ever since Dylan’s been involved in the set-up, he has been the perfect ambassador on and off the pitch.”

Rugby ‘isn’t going soft’_92953476_gettyimages-629097066

On the same weekend as Hartley’s card, Wasps’ Kurtley Beale was sin-binned for a high tackle on Connacht’s Niyi Adeolokun – a decision which prompted Wasps director of rugby Dai Young to call officiating “a bit of a joke”.

In response to Young’s comments, Ritchie said: “We need to look at high tackles and we need to be aware that concussion is a major challenge for the game.

“It’s right that World Rugby have increased some of the tariffs in those disciplinary matters. I don’t think it’s going soft but those areas around the head we should be rigorous about.”

Hartley’s club Northampton Saints have been under scrutiny after an incident involving Wales wing George North.

TV replays appeared to show North lying motionless after a fall in Saints’ recent game with Leicester, but he returned to play after passing a pitch-side assessment.

A concussion review group has now been formed to investigate the handling of the case and RFU boss Ritchie said: “They will come to a conclusion by the end of the week and we should learn lessons from that, where there are ones to learn.

“Concussion is definitely a big challenge. We have to address it head on.”

NFL: London to host four International Series games in 2017

_92060381_landon_collins_apThe Miami Dolphins will play the New Orleans Saints in one of those contests as part of the NFL’s International Series.

There will be two games staged at Wembley and two at Twickenham Stadium.

London hosts four games in 2017, one more than in 2016 and the most it has ever hosted.

NFL fixtures in London in 2017
Wembley Stadium
Sunday, 24 September or Sunday, 1 October 2017 Baltimore Ravens @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Sunday, 24 September or Sunday, 1 October 2017 New Orleans Saints @ Miami Dolphins
Twickenham Stadium
Sunday, 22 October or Sunday, 29 October 2017 Minnesota Vikings @ Cleveland Browns
Sunday, 22 October or Sunday, 29 October 2017 Arizona Cardinals @ Los Angeles Rams

The New York Giants became the first side to win at Twickenham in October when they beat the Los Angeles Rams 17-10.

Meanwhile, at Wembley, the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Indianapolis Colts 30-27 and the Washington Redskins tied 27-27 with the Cincinnati Bengals.

London hosted its first NFL game in 2007 and the NFL says there has been “accelerated growth” in audience figures since then. It says the UK has a fan base of more than 13 million people.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is facing a major new financial crisis linked to Rio 2016.

BBC Sport has learned $3.7m (£2.9m) of travel grants owed by the Rio 2016 organising committee to national Paralympic bodies are two weeks late.

Several smaller countries took out loans to send teams to Brazil – which the IPC covered with emergency funds.

The IPC is now thought to be considering legal action against the Rio 2016 organising committee.

The Rio Paralympics went ahead in September, but only after budget cuts to venues, the workforce and transport caused by recession and extra spending on the Olympics.

An initial instalment of delayed grants covering the costs for athletes and officials was paid.

But the second payment is now overdue, risking another blow to the legacy of South America’s first Games.

“We’re hugely disappointed that the second instalment of the travel grants, just like the first set, have not been paid on time by Rio 2016 and are urgently seeking a resolution to this issue from all parties concerned,” IPC spokesman Craig Spence said.

“The IPC has stepped in to keep these smaller NPCs [national Paralympic committees] afloat.

“The longer this situation goes on, the more likely it is that other NPCs come forward asking for financial support from the IPC.”

Rio 2016 officials are understood to have told the IPC that they cannot pay because they themselves are owed money from the city authorities.

Furthermore, their accounts have been frozen by a court following a lawsuit filed by two suppliers who say they have not been paid.

The IPC has now sent a letter to Rio mayor Eduardo Paes asking for his help.

In August Paes secured an additional £36m of funding and £24m in sponsorship from state-run companies after an injunction was lifted that had blocked further state aid for the Paralympics

“Overnight we have sent a letter to Rio mayor Paes, who was hugely supportive of the Paralympic Games, asking him to step in and intervene” Spence said_90852622_deodoro_getty