NBA Power Rankings: Heat still No. 1

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NBA Power Rankings: Heat still No. 1

By Tony Andracki & Mark Strotman

Each Monday throughout the regular season, Mark Strotman and Tony Andracki will rank all 30 NBA teams. Below are the first power rankings of the year in advance of the 2012-12 season. Think we're way off? Agree with our picks? Hit us up on Twitter at @BullsTalkCSN with comments or criticisms.

Tony
Mark Comments 1
Tony: The best team until somebody dethrones them.
Mark: Defending champs get even better with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.
2

Tony: Kobe is going to will this team to come together quickly.
Mark: Best starting lineup in the league, but will bench produce enough?
3
Tony: Very Dangerous even without Harden. Will Ibaka get it together on O?
Mark: Ginobili's back injury starting to become a concern (will miss opener).
4
Tony: Will be really fun to watch. Faried will be a monster. Mark: Still the Western champs, but took a small step back losing Harden.
5
Tony: Established as an annual contender behind CP3.
Mark: Core still strong; Courtney Lee and Jason Terry will help replace Allen.
6
Tony: Can't ever count them out, despite the aging roster.
Mark: Young, rising team gets better with Iguodala. 7
Tony: Paul George could key Pacers taking the next step.
Mark: Bringing back Hill and Hibbert means Indiana will contend again in East. 8
Tony: Will be in the thick of things again, but no longer a powerhouse.
Mark: Revamped bench (and a healthy Billups) should support star-studded starting lineup.
9
Tony: Exciting offseason. Will go as far as D-Will takes them.
Mark: The loss of O.J. Mayo hurts, but Conley on the verge of stardom.
10
Tony: Losing Iguodala was big, but Collins will keep 'em contenders.
Mark: New location, new lineup, new jerseys. But will we see new results?
11
Tony: RandolphGasol frontcourt will carry this team.
Mark: Deepest frontcourt in the NBA needs production from point guard Mo Williams.
12
Tony: Thibs will keep their head above water 'til Rose's Return.
Mark: Losing Lou Williams and Iguodala hurts, but Bynum (when healthy) is finally a face to the franchise.
13
Tony: Is this the year Teague takes the next step? Could be big.
Mark: Ugly start to preseason a thing of the past, and Hinrich appears to have avoided serious injury.
14
Tony: Dirk's health will determine season.
Mark: With Horford healthy and Lou Williams on board, Hawks could be sneaky contender in East.
15
Tony: Not sold on them as a contender right now.
Mark: Amar'e will miss six weeks, and point guard (Kidd, Felton) still a question mark.
16
Tony: Hayward is an intriguing guy. Should be integral part of this team.
Mark: No Dirk for a month leaves questions, but core still in tact.
17
Tony: Season hinges on how well JenningsEllis share the ball.
Mark: Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut's health will be a key to the season.
18
Tony: Nicolas Batum is this year's breakout star.
Mark: Jennings and Ellis form elite backcourt, but frontcourt past Ilyosova must improve.
19
Tony: Lin, Harden, Omer an interesting Big Three, to say the least.
Mark: Addition of Harden helps, but can Asik and Lin live up to their contracts?
20
Tony: Health of Curry, Bogut will dictate record.
Mark: Minnesota drops a few spots with Love (hand) and Rubio (ACL) out to start season.
21
Tony: Will be a team to watch when they get LoveRubio back.
Mark: Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge are a dynamic core, but they have little help.
22
Tony: Could surprise people. Monroe is turning into a star.
Mark: The talent is there, but they need an identity...and a defense.
23
Tony: Like their young pieces. Will they trade Varejao?
Mark: The Steve Nash-less era won't be a fun start, but Suns hoping Marshall can one day be heir apparent.
24
Tony: Will Valanciunas live up to the hype?
Mark: Anthony Davis is the real deal, but the Hornets are still a couple of years away.
25
Tony: Year 1 A.N. (After Nash). Is Dragic the answer at PG?
Mark: Addition of Kyle Lowry was a big move, but the Raptors will need help to have chance at No. 8 spot.
26
Tony: Will Cousins mature into a bonafide star?
Mark: Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe are great 1-2 duo to build around.
27
Tony: Remember when Eric Gordon played?
Mark: Kyrie Irving has the franchise in good hands, and Dion WaitersTristan Thompson are great supporters.
28
Tony: Wall's injury a severe blow to a team that should lose often.
Mark: Washington will really struggle until John Wall returns from a knee injury.
29
Tony: "Rebuilding" year after Dwight. Afflalo a nice get, though.
Mark: Dwight Howard nightmare is finally over, but the Magic got very little in return.
30
Tony: Should improve on last year's record, but not by much.
Mark: Love Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's upside, but even he can't change the Bobcats' fortunes this year.

Bears great Jay Hilgenberg to new C Cornelius Edison: “You deserve to be there”

Bears great Jay Hilgenberg to new C Cornelius Edison: “You deserve to be there”

The storyline has already been formed: If the Bears are forced to go with undrafted Cornelius Edison as their center, the 2016 season is lost.

“I mean, how ridiculous to think that an undrafted free agent could be the starting center for the Chicago Bears, and they win,” deadpanned Jay Hilgenberg, making less than no attempt to mask the irony in his voice.

With very good reason.

Because Hilgenberg himself came into the NFL as an afterthought, undrafted out of Iowa in 1981 and then going on to an 11-year career with the Bears, capped by a Super Bowl ring in 1985. Seven Pro Bowls, five All-Pro selections.

Ridiculous.

Edison may come nowhere near the heights reached by Hall of Fame nominee Hilgenberg. Or of Hall of Fame Miami center Jim Langer, also undrafted. But Hilgenberg has a strong bit of advice for Edison, who started Saturday in the Bears preseason game vs. Kansas City and could be their starter on Opening Day, depending on health elsewhere on the interior of the Bears offensive line.

“I would say to him, ‘You’re in an NFL camp because you can play football,’” Hilgenberg told CSNChicago.com. “Don’t let how you entered that camp take anything away from you. You deserve to be there. You just need to prove it a little bit more than the first-rounders.’”

[SHOP: Get your Bears gear right here]

It may not always be easy, of course.

Hilgenberg, who fought his way onto the final roster in 1981, once famously turned to then-teammate Revie Sorey on the bench during a blowout of the Bears in Hilgenberg’s first season, and said, “Revie, we’re the worst team in the NFL.”

Sorey, never one to duck the truth, nodded.

Hilgenberg added, “And I’m the worst player on this team.”

Again, no disagreement from Sorey.

“So that makes me the worst player in the NFL, doesn’t it?” Hilgenberg concluded.

Silence from Sorey.

Hilgenberg turned out to not be the worst player in the NFL, but not without epic struggles, and he knows what Edison will be going through. And how the young center can make it.

[MORE BEARS: Rookie class making much-needed impact]

“To be honest there is always a little insecurity in you,” Hilgenberg recalled. “I had confidence that I belonged but I had to fight every day. And the truth is, I wanted it more than anything else in the world. I was going to make it.

“I didn’t have Plan B. I didn’t want to go back to Iowa then, so I didn’t have Plan B.

Hilgenberg used teams’ not drafting him as motivation, and Bears teammates recalled him savoring facing supposed elite defensive linemen, No. 1 picks, and handling them. Beyond his attitude, however, was a method.

“I played against a lot of big, strong guys in the NFL, and I wasn’t going to back down from anybody,” Hilgenberg said. “As soon as you learn how to play with the right fundamentals, you learn that there’s no Supermen out there. If you can play fundamentally and with good technique, you can block anybody… .

“Offensive line play is honestly all about how bad you want it. How much are you willing to do? How important is it to you? What does it mean to you?”

Edison is in the process of answering those exact questions.

Dwyane Wade's cousin shot and killed in Chicago

Dwyane Wade's cousin shot and killed in Chicago

On Thursday, Dwyane Wade appeared on an ESPN special for The Undefeated to talk about gun violence. The next day, Wade's cousin was shot and killed in Chicago.

Nykea Aldridge was pushing a baby stroller in the Chicago neighborhood of Parkway Gardens when she was shot and killed. Aldridge was 32 and a mother of four.

Police said she was not the intended target and one person was taken into custody as a result of the incident.

Wade's words during his appearance on the ESPN panel took on extra meaning after Friday's shooting.

"It's important for all of us to help each other, to go back and say 'You know what, where did this start, how did this start? Let's see how we can change there,'" Wade said on ESPN. "It's deep-rooted and this is something that didn't start today. This is something that's not going to end tomorrow. But this is something that we can start a conversation, we can start the work today and hopefully eventually we can stop it."

Wade tweeted after the shooting.

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – The “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants started at Dodger Stadium late Friday night, Cubs fans celebrating Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the 10th inning and cheering on this entertaining comeback win.

Until Clayton Kershaw returns to full strength, stares down hitters from 60 feet, six inches and unleashes his entire arsenal, it’s impossible to know how the Cubs would stack up against Los Angeles in October. But it’s still safe to say this would be an epic playoff matchup between two big-market, star-studded franchises, with two iconic ballparks becoming the backdrop, celebrity row after celebrity row.

As a quiet homebody who happens to have his own billboards and marketing deals – but doesn’t do bulletin-board quotes or brag about his game – Bryant is not exactly a Hollywood personality. But this is also a goal-oriented individual who doesn’t shy away from the pressure and the expectations and absolutely wants to be the best at his craft.

The Cubs won this round with Bryant, who launched his 34th and 35th home runs in a 6-4 victory, an MVP-worthy season becoming the sequel to his Rookie of the Year campaign.

“It’s humbling,” Bryant said. “You grow up hearing that kind of stuff on TV. To experience it in real life is pretty cool.”

It became hard to hear Bryant inside the visiting clubhouse, because teammates chanted “MVP!” and sung along with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre as “Nuthin But a G Thang” played on the sound system. But for most of the night, it looked like it would be a silent room postgame as the resilient Dodgers took 3-1 and 4-2 leads.

Until the eighth inning, when Bryant launched a home run off Joe Blanton that landed in the center-field seats blocked off for the batter’s eye. And then the ninth inning showed why manager Joe Maddon will want Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward in a playoff lineup.

In the middle of a frustrating offensive season where he’s felt the weight of a $184 million contract, Heyward led off by ripping a double into the right-field corner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Heyward hustled to third base when new Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz couldn’t handle strike three against Jorge Soler. Heyward ran home to score the game-tying run when a Jansen wild pitch sailed toward the backstop.

That set the stage for Bryant, who brought up the fielding error he made in the fifth inning during his postgame interview on Channel 7 after hitting the game-winning homer off lefty Adam Liberatore. All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo may set the tone in the clubhouse, but Bryant already brings tunnel vision and a high degree of professionalism to an 82-45 team, even at the age of 24. 

“He just doesn’t quit,” Heyward said. “He wants to be in every spot. He goes up there and has his at-bat – and that’s it.

“You can talk about why he’s been hitting the ball well, this and that, but he has a good approach. It’s that simple. Other than that, he works his tail off every day to try and go out there and help us win.

“When you have that gift – and you have that work ethic – the bottom line is a lot of good things can happen.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

A resourceful $250 million team won’t fade away, even with Kershaw (back) not pitching for two months, one of 27 players the Dodgers have stashed on the disabled list, tying a major-league record. Los Angeles has cycled through 14 different starting pitchers, relying on depth, a powerful lineup and a strong bullpen to surge into first place and hold onto a one-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

“How about last year?” Maddon said. “We beat up on the Mets during the season, we go (into the playoffs) and we can’t even touch them. It’s such a different animal. People get hot or people get cold.

“I’m not going to diminish the fact I’m going to be paying attention. But things change. Trends can be so trendy, to quote Yogi. So I don’t get too far ahead, because things can change very quickly.”

Like Bryant going from a promising player with a few holes in his swing who looked worn down at times last season – to an MVP frontrunner with a .303 average, 89 RBI, 107 runs scored, a .982 OPS and the versatility to play third base, defensively shift across the infield and move to the outfield.

Kershaw vs. Bryant would be must-see TV in October.