Power Rankings: Knicks rising, Nuggets falling in opening week

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Power Rankings: Knicks rising, Nuggets falling in opening week

By Tony Andracki & Mark Strotman

Each Monday throughout the regular season, Mark Strotman and Tony Andracki will rank all 30 NBA teams. Below are Week 2 Power Rankings. Think we're way off? Agree with our picks? Hit us up on Twitter at @BullsTalkCSN with comments or criticisms.
Past rankings: Preseason

  Tony
 Mark Comments 1
 Tony: The class of the NBA so far. Parker is on fire.
 Mark: Parker, Duncan out to prove age never a factor in San Antonio.
 2
 Tony: That blowout loss to NYK bumps them down a peg.
 Mark: Hiccup in New York, still look like team to beat in the East.
 3
 Tony: Chris Paul will be in the MVP discussion all year.
 Mark: Jamal Crawford for (very) early Sixth Man of the Year?
 4
 Tony: Not a great record to start, but will right the ship. Mark: Carmelo hasn't slowed down since the Olympics as Knicks beat Heat, Sixers.
 5
 Tony: More concerned about Nash's injury over 1-3 start.
 Mark: Still figuring out life post-Harden, but Durant's rebounding numbers impressive.
 6
 Tony: Really beat up on MIA. Will Felton stick at PG?
 Mark: Granger's knee starting to be a concern. 7
 Tony: This is Paul George's breakout season.
 Mark: Not worried about sluggish start. 8
 Tony: Closely watching Deron Williams' ankle.
 Mark: Very tough schedule to open season, but Iguodala and Lawson look great.
 9
 Tony: Really needed that win at home against New Orleans.
 Mark: Move over Boston: Brooklyn's herringbone court the best in the game.
 10
 Tony: This is my surprise team to make the playoffs. Love the talent.
 Mark: Not time to panic just yet, but Nash (leg) could miss 4 weeks.
 11
 Tony: Once they get Dirk back, they'll be Top 10 team.
 Mark: Jrue Holiday is a franchise point guard.
 12
 Tony: Lou Williams a great fit for this offense.
 Mark: Jae Crowder a pleasant surprise off the bench; Mayo looking like a FA steal.
 13
 Tony: Remember when people said Harden wasn't worth a max deal?
 Mark: Grizzlies right where they should be.
 14
 Tony: Great starting 5, but they don't have depth.
 Mark: Huge win over the Thunder; even more impressive doing it without Josh Smith.
 15
 Tony: Off to a really good start. Jennings looks smarter, better.
 Mark: Nice 2-0 start, but where is Ilyosova?
 16
 Tony: Horrendous start to the year, but will figure it out.
 Mark: Offense hasn't found rhythm yet, but defense looks solid early.
 17
 Tony: Need to shore up their defense.
 Mark: Brandon Rush (torn ACL) will be missed.
 18
 Tony: This may be Jrue Holiday's breakout season.
 Mark: So James Harden was worth 80 million, huh Oklahoma City?
 19
 Tony: Will struggle in the powerhouse West.
 Mark: Damian Lillard is for real, and could make a push for Rookie of the Year honors.
 20
 Tony: I think Mo williams is glad to be running the point again.
 Mark: Interior offense, not Mo Williams, the problem early on.
 21
 Tony: Just need to stay around .500 until LoveRubio get back.
 Mark: Almost went 3-0 to open season, but lost late lead to San Antonio.
 22
 Tony: Off to a great start, even with Gordon out indefinitely.
 Mark: Kyle Lowry looking like one of the biggest steals of the offseason.
 23
 Tony: Luis Scola looks reborn right now.
 Mark: Looks like Love will miss the full six weeks recovering from broken hand.
 24
 Tony: I like this team, but postseason may still be a year away.
 Mark: Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis and J.J. Redick all performing well for 2-0 Magic.
 25
 Tony: Young team, but still not quite playoff-ready.
 Mark: Michael Beasley could average 18 points per game in this offense.
 26
 Tony: Surprising start led by J.J. Redick's sharpshooting.
 Mark: Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao are by themselves in this fight.
 27
 Tony: Kemba is turning into a star.
 Mark: Pistons have played a tough schedule, but haven't looked good in losses, either.
 28
 Tony: Will rack up a lot of losses this year.
 Mark: There's no discipline in Sacramento, and Kings won't go anywhere until DMC grows up.
 29
 Tony: They need their playmaker back.
 Mark: Opening night win took everything out of them; lost to Dallas by 26 the next night.
 30
 Tony: Rodney Stuckey is off to an ugly, ugly start.
 Mark: John Wall can't return soon enough.

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

SAN DIEGO – West Coast atmosphere, late August, almost no-hitter stuff for a Cubs team riding a wave of momentum. Jake Arrieta might be reentering the zone that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet last year. Get your onesies ready.

It felt that way on Tuesday night at Petco Park, where Arrieta shut down the San Diego Padres, allowing only two hits across eight scoreless innings in a 5-3 victory, making another statement in his Cy Young Award defense.

For all the questions about Arrieta’s fastball control and mechanical tweaks – and times where he’s admitted he’s felt a click off – this is still a top-of-the-rotation guy who leads the league with 16 wins and has a 2.62 ERA.

“He should be” in the Cy Young discussion, manager Joe Maddon said. “The only thing that’s been amiss is a little bit of command issues on occasion. Otherwise, stuff is the same. Numbers are fabulous. It’s hard to replicate what he had done last year, because he just nailed it.

“If he gets hot over these last couple weeks…”

It will be up to Arrieta to complete that thought in a World Series-or-bust season for baseball’s first team to 80 wins this year, one that’s now 35 games over .500.  

[SHOP: Get your own Jake Arrieta jersey]

This didn’t feel like a perfect game or create any no-hitter drama. The Padres are already 20 games under .500 and years away from being a serious contender. And Arrieta had to bounce back from last week’s ugly win over the Milwaukee Brewers – when he walked a career-high seven batters – and work around a first-inning walk to San Diego leadoff guy Travis Jankowski.

But the Cubs played spectacular defense behind Arrieta, with catcher Willson Contreras make a lightning-quick throw to pick off Jankowski at third base. The Cubs turned three double plays while a thunderous lineup led by Kris Bryant (33rd home run) and Addison Russell (fifth home run in his last five games) lowered the stress level. After Alex Dickerson’s single leading off the second inning, the Padres didn’t get another hit until Christian Bethancourt’s double with two outs in the eighth.

“I really wanted to let my defense work,” said Arrieta, who finished with six strikeouts against three walks. “When you have Addison and (Javier) Baez in the middle of the infield – two of the best athletes in all of baseball – you want the ball to go to those guys.”

At a time when Clayton Kershaw (back) and Stephen Strasburg (elbow) are on the disabled list, leaving potential playoff opponents like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals in scramble mode, the Cubs can see Arrieta building toward October.

The way Arrieta did with that Aug. 30 no-hitter last year at Dodger Stadium on national TV, walking into the press conference in a moustache-covered onesie, Maddon going with the pajama theme again for the flight home after this weekend’s series in Los Angeles.

But the Cubs ultimately paid the price for all that effort poured into the wild-card chase, which explains why Maddon pulled Arrieta after 99 pitches with a five-run lead (leaving Aroldis Chapman to clean up Felix Pena’s mess in the ninth inning and get the final two outs, giving him eight saves in a Cubs uniform).

“Yeah, I was mad at Joe taking me out,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, he came over to me and he said: ‘Hey, just remember last year and let’s conserve some things for October.’

“That’s our game plan. We want to be as strong and as dominant as we can be, but still in the back of our mind understanding that late September, early October, mid-October is really the most important time for us.

“Could I have finished the game? Yes. Does it play in our favor to maybe conserve that for later? Yeah. Joe’s a really smart guy. He knows what he’s doing. I feel like he makes the right moves in the right situations. And that’s why we’ve been playing as well as we have.”

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

SAN DIEGO – On a team bursting with MVP frontrunners and Cy Young Award candidates – and in a clubhouse with louder, flashier personalities – Addison Russell can emerge as an All-Star shortstop and not become the center of attention.

But here at Petco Park last month, Russell drew scrutiny for his spot in the all-Cub infield, patiently answering questions from reporters about whether or not he deserved to be the National League starter the fans voted for in that popularity contest.

Russell might actually be developing into a superstar now, a Gold Glove-caliber defender with legitimate middle-of-the-order power, someone absolutely essential to what the Cubs are doing now. Russell crushed the San Diego Padres again on Tuesday night, opening up a two-run game with a two-run homer in the fifth inning of a 5-3 victory.

“Just watch me over the course of a year,” Russell said. “My numbers may not be great or whatever, but I contribute to my team every single day. I play my heart out for my team.”

Super-agent Scott Boras, posted up at Petco Park to see clients and watch Jake Arrieta pitch, pointed out that Russell is now only one of five shortstops within the last 40 years to have at least 19 homers during his age-22 season, joining Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Seager.

Russell is the first Cubs shortstop to reach the 80-RBI mark since Ernie Banks did it in 1961. For all the comparisons to Barry Larkin, he didn’t make his big-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds until the age of 22, and didn’t exceed 12 homers in a season until five years later.

Russell has homered five times in his last five games, leads the best team in baseball with 23 multi-RBI games and exemplifies a no-panic approach that should translate in October.

“I’ve said all year, we have guys on our team that get on base and it’s my job to get them over or get them in,” Russell said. “I’ve taken that role to heart. It’s a lot of fun out there. I challenge myself whenever I’m in that situation.”

[SHOP: Get your Addison Russell jersey here]

Russell’s highlight-reel play during Monday night’s victory inspired manager Joe Maddon to give him a bottle of Justin Isosceles wine with a “6-3” written on it. Imagine the reward if Russell wins a Gold Glove.  

“Defensively, it’s as good as there is being played right now,” Maddon said. “It’s getting to the point where there’s nobody else like that right now.”

Whether or not Russell can stay healthy and remain productive enough to become another Mr. Cub – or come close to matching Larkin’s Hall of Fame numbers – you don’t get the sense he will be a one-time All-Star.

“I’m very happy for him, because I know prior to being selected, that was an issue,” Maddon said. “I’m so proud of him, how he came out and confronted it in his own way, very quietly, but in a distinguished manner. That’s who he is.

“Now he’s showing everybody how good he is. And I also believe that event has pretty much catapulted him to the point he’s at right now (with) the status that he felt by being here. In some ways, there was this negative dialogue going on. He’s turned it into a very positive one. Good for him.”

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

The White Sox take on the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Wednesday’s starting pitching matchup: James Shields vs. Jerad Eickhoff

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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