The question before us is this: Are the Chicago Bulls the class of the East, a.k.a. the Leastern Conference?
Are Bulls Beasts of the Least?
The Bulls trampled another big-time opponent on Thursday, beating Dallas 96-85 and ending the Mavs' eight-game winning streak.
The Bulls led by 17 in the first quarter, never trailed, and were hardly threatened. When Dirk Nowitzki hit a 3-pointer to cut the Bulls' lead to three with 4:30 to play, Chicago coolly responded with a 17-7 rally to give the Mavs only their fifth loss in their past 40 games.
Thus, Chicago added another impressive scalp to its collection. On the other hand, the win improved the Bulls to just 25-19, which is only fourth in the conference that some consider the worst in NBA history.
Here, then, is a brief rundown of the reasons the Bulls are -- or aren't -- the best the East has right now.
THE CASE FOR
Law of Blowouts
When the Bulls slumped in November, they were an afterthought, but that blowout was a sign of things to come.
How so? Overall, the Bulls are 15-10 in games decided by 10 points or more.
That doesn't do it for you?
How about an 11-4 record in games decided by 15 points or more?
Research by John Hollinger and others shows that close games often come down to the bounce of the ball ... and that blowouts are the true sign of a good team. Hence, the Law of Blowouts.
That's why the Bulls currently rank well ahead of every other Eastern team in Hollinger's Power Rankings. Not only have they played a tougher-than-average schedule, but their scoring margin dwarfs that of every other team in the East.
And it's not only the patsies they're beating up on -- in addition to the Heat, they've routed conference rivals Detroit, Indiana and Washington.
So far they've downed the Spurs, the Lakers, the Cavs, the Heat twice, and now the Mavs.
They've also polished off the Atlantic-leading Raptors (who would be their opponent if the playoffs started today) in their two meetings.
You like field-goal percentage defense? The Bulls are No. 2 in the NBA.
You prefer Hollinger's more comprehensive Defensive Efficiency rating? Same thing -- second in the league.
Defense wins, right? Well, this is one defense that never rests.
But the nearly universal belief is that the Bulls match up especially well with Miami.
Because they pushed them hard in the playoffs last year, taking Miami to six tough games, and Kirk Hinrich proved he's the closest thing the NBA has to a "Dwyane stopper."
Because they have Ben Wallace, who knows more than anyone else in the world about how to guard Shaquille O'Neal.
And because they've demonstrated in two games this season that they seem to have Miami's number -- for now, at least.
THE CASE AGAINST
One thing's for sure: the Cavs, the Pistons, the Magic, the Wizards and the aforementioned Heat aren't buying this Bull stuff.
LeBron's Cavs play strong D, thumped Chicago by 19 points earlier this season and last season proved their playoff mettle.
The Pistons are largely the same team that has made a habit of chewing up and spitting out East pretenders the past few seasons. In the playoffs, they'd have extra motivation with Wallace a target in Bulls red.
The Magic can match up well with similar young talent, and beat the Bulls 109-94 in their only meeting this season.
The Wizards eliminated the Bulls two years ago, and certainly could fire up "the Hibachi" for another Bulls barbecue.
And let's not forget Indiana and New Jersey, each of which has the talent to beat the Bulls. And, oh yes, the Heat.
In other words, even a conference as weak as the East is a minefield for a team as flawed as the Bulls.
This theory holds that teams that play hard during the regular season and specialize in stopping opponents won't have another gear in the postseason. Meanwhile, teams that can take their defense to another level are especially dangerous.
In this point of view, the Bulls are maxed out already defensively, and their mediocre offense will suffer even more in the playoffs as other teams bear down on D.
What about the O?
Help might come in the form of improved play from Kirk Hinrich, increased production from their young players, or -- yes -- a trade for a post scorer like Pau Gasol.
But until then, this is Chicago's Achilles' heel, and any number of runaway wins won't quiet the concerns.
So, what's the word?
On January 26, 2007, the Bulls are indeed the best team in the worst conference.
But there's no need to start stitching that seventh banner yet.
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Royce Webb is an NBA editor at ESPN.com.
Jeffrey Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images
Cuttino Mobley's 3-pointer splashed down with 0.6 seconds to play, giving the Los Angeles Clippers a heart-stopping 102-101 win and sending the New Jersey Nets to another heartbreaking defeat -- their third straight one-point loss on the road this week.
RAINMAN: Earlier this season, I noted how the high arc on Ben Gordon's shot gave the ball a better angle through the rim, allowing a greater margin for error.
There is another benefit to his rainbow jumper. His initial release angle enables him to get shots up and over his defender's reach without having to change his mechanics.
THE RIGHT STUFF? Clippers point guard Shaun Livingston has clearly made strides in his game this season. But I still think he's too concerned about style and not concerned enough about substance.
Livingston's opponent on Thursday, Jason Kidd, has shown how a point guard with size and style can still build his game around substance -- just like Magic Johnson in a previous era.
-- David Thorpe of Scouts Inc.
The Mavericks were 29-for-93 (.312) from the field at Chicago on Thursday, their second-lowest field-goal percentage in any game in the past eight seasons; they were 28-for-96 (.292) on November 9, 2004, at Orlando.
Josh Howard and Dirk Nowitzki were the two main culprits.
Howard was 4-for-20 (.200) from the field. Only one player in Mavericks' history had a lower shooting percentage in a game in which he took at least 20 shots: Cedric Ceballos was 3-for-20 (.150) on November 29, 1999, against the Knicks.
Nowitzki scored 28 points despite making only 7-of-22 shots from the field (he was 12-for-13 from the foul line). It's the most points that Nowitzki has ever scored in an NBA game in which he made fewer than one-third of his field-goal attempts.
It's the first time this season that two NBA teammates each took at least 20 shots in a game while converting fewer than one-third of them.
• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
Chicago gets great D vs. Dallas
Clips clip Nets on buzzer-beater
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
Rookie jumping jack Tyrus Thomas spikes a Dirk Nowitzki shot, part of the Bulls' all-night-long harassment of Mavs shooters.
Quote of the Day
-- Royce Webb
One of the hot rumors in the NBA is a potential blockbuster trade between the Nets and Clippers, who faced off on Thursday, with Los Angeles pulling out a 102-101 thriller despite 33 points from New Jersey's Vince Carter.
Chad Ford addressed the feasibility of the trade in his weekly chat:
Lane (Kukuihaele, HI): Are the Nets seriously thinking about trading Vince Carter and Marcus Williams to the Clippers for Shaun Livingston and Corey Maggette? Doesn't this deal benefit the Clips more?
Chad Ford: I think this is a pretty fair deal because I think Shaun Livingston still has such enormous potential and Carter could leave via free agency.
I think it also opens the door further to moving Jason Kidd.
Would give the Clips the juice they need in the backcourt.
Here's how that would look in the ESPN Trade Machine, with a couple of Clippers thrown in for salary ballast.
Cuban takes on tough "Rapid Fire" questions
The 1990s were more than the Chicago Bulls.
The decade also had Little Penny, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Reggie Miller, Muggsy Bogues, Stockton-to-Malone, Hakeem's Rockets, Riley's Knicks ... and two unusual events that happened on this date 16 and 12 years ago.
January 26, 1991
Maxwell, who finished with 51 points, hit for 30 in the final quarter of the Rockets' 103-97 home win over Cleveland.
Gervin holds the NBA record for scoring the most points in a quarter, with 33 in San Antonio's 153-132 loss to the New Orleans Jazz on April 9, 1978.
January 26, 1995
-- ESPN Research