Tag Archives: Chicago Bulls

Brief 2017 NBA Playoff Recaps: Volume 1 (Opening Weekend)

Four games in each day, to launch the 2017 NBA Playoffs. One paragraph per game, that’s all time will allow.

Saturday, April 15

Cleveland Cavs 109, Indiana Pacers 108 (Miles To Go Before I Sleep…)

(CLE leads, 1–0)

LeBron very good, rest of Cavs looked rusty…Kyrie 1 of 9 from deep…Cleveland dodges bullet when C.J. Miles misses fade-away at buzzer. Paul George is mad at C.J. Miles for taking a good look. Too bad Sir Lance couldn’t steal one for Indiana, that would’ve made things dramatic. (Lance is bringing it back to 2013, by the way)…Kevin Seraphin got 16 playoff minutes! Don’t wake the monster…

Milwaukee Bucks 97, Toronto Raptors 83 (Sir Brogdon At Your Service…)

(MIL leads 1–0)

Giannis in attack mode, such a beautiful sight. Half court to the rim in 3 strides. 28 on 18 shots…President Malcolm Brogdon ain’t a rookie, he’s a savvy vet! What do you need? I got your defense, your timely shooting, your smart passing. Just tell me what you need…Khris Middleton is the only human on the planet who can shoot 4 of 15 and finish +27 on the night. Three blocks by Maker made me squeal with delight. Lowry 2 of 11 and 0 of 6 from deep. Wrist rust be a problem. Casey needs to get Valanciunas more than 5 shots. This is going 7.

Dwayne Casey needs to figure some things out before Game 2

 

San Antonio Spurs 111, Memphis Grizzlies 82 (Kawhi Can’t This be a Forfeit?)

(SA leads 1–0….soon to be 4–0)

When we heard Tony Allen was out for the series, we stopped holding out any hope that this would be competitive. The Spurs were ordered by Adam Silver to wait until the 2nd quarter to annihilate the Grizzlies, so they cooperated, ending the first with a 5 point deficit. Then San Antonio won the next three quarters by 34. When you want to watch every series, it helps to have one like this.

Utah Jazz 97, Los Angeles Clippers 95 (Win One for the Gobert!)

(UTAH leads 1–0)

17 seconds after tip and The Gentle Giant, Gobert the Great, was on the ground, crawling and shaking his head. It was a painful, deflating sight. Anyone who was rooting for the Jazz felt hollow inside. Quin Snyder’s expression was more than concerned. Not exactly panicked, though. He held himself together, and the Jazz held themselves together. Players like Joe Johnson, Joe Ingles, George Hill, and Derrick Favors…pulled this one out. What a wonderful game. The Clippers have all the talent and the Jazz have all the grit. The Clippers are an empty vessel, with a ferocious point guard at the helm. They are less than the sum of their parts, while the Jazz are more than just a couple of Joes. What sweet music, Game One brought us. Joe Johnson has been reborn. Joe Ingles is the best YMCA gym rat in the NBA.

Slow-Motion Joe Goes With the Flow

 

Sunday, April 16

Golden St Warriors 121, Portland Trail Blazers 109 (McCollum Merely One Man…)

(GS leads 1–0)

C.J. McCollum was Golden State’s Gollum, they were never sure which way he’d go. Dropping 41 points on 28 shots, McCollum and his pal Lillard kept the Blazers afloat until the 15–2 Warrior avalanche began the 4th. Defensive Draymond opened the gates and the unassuming Ian Clark chipped in 7 of those 15. The first 36 minutes of the series may be the closest, though it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Blazers backcourt pull one out in the Rose Quarter.

Washington Wizards 114, Atlanta Hawks 107 (Chief Markieff Offers Relief)

(WAS leads 1–0)

The Wizards are probably the better team, and certainly the more interesting one of the two, but with time slipping away at the end of the half, the Hawks led, 48–42, and Washington’s Markieff Morris missed a contested corner three. The ensuing review showed that Morris had been fouled as time expired on the shot. Three free-throws and the lead was cut to 3, as they strolled toward the locker rooms. After the half, Morris opened up by hitting a 3, and the game was tied. Sometimes a game swings when you least expect it. The Hawks have little margin for error. The Wizards bench came up completely empty (except for Mr. Oubre). A few Tim Hardaway threes (0 of 6) and the Hawks might have pulled it out. Instead, Washington still holds home court for now.

Chicago Bulls 106, Boston Celtics 102 (Tragic Turn for Cs but Baby Please…)

(CHI leads 1–0)

What an awful turn of events for Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics. A tragedy clouded what should have been an exuberant first round home game in Boston. Despite it all, Isaiah showed up and did what he always does: scored. 33 points on 18 shots, 10 of 12 from the line, and 3 from deep. Isaiah finished with a +12. So did Bobby Portis, the Bulls 22 year-old who came off the bench with a fury. Those ten minutes without Isaiah belonged to Portis, who scored 19 on 8 of 10, grabbing 9 boards, dishing 3 assists and blocking 2 shots. After the Bulls sent Gibson and McDermott packing, Portis has seen his minutes grow. Once he started knocking down threes at the end of the regular season, his confidence apparently grew as well. Boston’s 53-wins and home court advantage are in the rear-view now, as they fight off Jimmy Butler and Bobby Portis, looking to even things on Tuesday night. Bradley and Horford did their parts, along with Isaiah. Crowder, Smart, Olynyk, and Jaylen have to give more.

Houston Rockets 118, OKC Thunder 87 (Roll the Thunder, Hear Their Cry)

(HOU leads 1–0)

No more debates, no more MVP concerns, just throw the ball up and play. The better team won. The better team has Patrick Beverley, whose offensive contributions (21 points on 13 shots) pale in comparison to the impact of his Westbrook-hounding. Russell can rampage all over the regular season, but he won’t rampage all over Mr. Beverley, who has never known the concept of fear or intimidation. Westbrook’s 6 of 23 line, and 9 turnovers were a big part of the problem. His sidekick, Victor Oladipo, was a dreadful 1 of 12 from the field, misfiring on all 6 three-pointers. OKC’s only hope is to contain Houston’s relentless attack, in which James Harden dissects their defense and makes life simple and breezy for Clint Capela and Nene, who shot a combined 14 of 17, feasting on lay-ups and dunks. Either redirect Harden away from the paint, or Westbrook has to play three times as well as he did tonight and Oladipo needs to wake up. This could be over in 5.

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End of Season NBA Predictions: Eastern Conference Stretch Run

With 25 games left in the NBA’s overly-long 82-game season, we’re back in action after the restful All-Star Break. The trade deadline proved about as exciting as a Nets-Suns match-up. Tobias Harris will be a useful addition over time in Detroit, but he won’t impact Detroit’s possible series with Cleveland (1 vs 8).

Meanwhile, no the Boston Celtics did not make a splashy trade at the deadline. As a Celtics fan, I’m relieved they didn’t trade the Brooklyn pick for a short-term upgrade and a better shot at Toronto/Cleveland this year. Realistically, the Celtics need to win one playoff series with this new young core before they think about short-term improvements. If they have a chance to land Blake Griffin or Kevin Love, that would change the equation. Even if the Brooklyn pick turns into the 2nd or 3rd overall selection, the Celtics could certainly build around Simmons, Ingram, or Bender, each of whom could play power forward. If it ends up 4th or 5th (Damn you, Suns!), Ainge may be more likely to package that pick with other 1st rounders and other young Celtics. We shall see. The prospect of drafting three more rookies (they will have Dallas’ pick as well as their own and Brooklyn’s) would seem to make for an extra crowded training camp, and a very young team.

Eastern Conference

The Cleveland Cavs will coast into the playoffs, incorporating Channing Frye’s shooting off the bench. Kyrie and Love will allow LeBron to sit most of the final week of the regular season, with the top seed wrapped up.

Cleveland Prediction: 60 wins, 1st in East.

Raptor-Mania will ensue when the Toronto Raptors win their first playoff series in too many years. DeMarre Carroll will return from arthroscopic knee surgery by the end of March, in order to get up to speed by playoff time. Last year’s Raptors started 22-5, before crumbling in the 2nd half, but that won’t happen this year. Lowry’s conditioning and core strength are hugely improved, and DeMar DeRozan’s improvement has been well documented. Perhaps most importantly, the depth and defensive intensity of the Raptors bench will keep them ahead of the pack.

Toronto Prediction: 53 wins, 2nd in East.

The progress of these Boston Celtics has been rapid and consistent since acquiring PG Isaiah Thomas from Phoenix last February. After beating up on a weaker Eastern Conference to finish last season 24-12, Boston is now 33-24, on pace for 47 wins and home court in a first round series. Thanks to Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and addition Amir Johnson, the Celtics are one of the more physical defensive teams in the Association. Their cohesion and intensity has led to the league’s 4th best eFG% against (48.1%) and they force the 3rd-most turnovers per game. Boston still struggles with the rare traditional post-up big man, which could become an issue if they face Valanciunas and Toronto in the 2nd round. If the Celtics hold on to the third seed, who will they face in the first round remains to be seen, as seven teams have a legit chance to finish 4th-8th, and they may all finish within three games of each other.

Boston Prediction: 48 wins, 3rd in East.

The Indiana Pacers will catch fire as their schedule softens during the stretch run. Most forget the Pacers started 12-5, with Paul George shooting the lights out in November. As the season wore on, Indiana wore down, and their December schedule snuffed out that early start. Fast forward to Friday night in Oklahoma City: Paul George’s fresh legs, Monta Ellis’ scoring, and rookie Myles Turner’s 6 blocks and timely outside shooting (stretch 5!) led to a statement win for the young Pacers. Considering where they were a year ago, the progress and future-positivity is a testament to Larry Bird’s vision, Frank Vogel’s coaching acumen, and a host of shooters surrounding the potent Paul George. Myles Turner’s energy and versatility will become obvious, but he may hit the rookie wall by April. The Pacers are an enigmatic young bunch, but can they win close playoff games?

Indiana Prediction: 47 wins, 4th in East.

The Chicago Bulls are injured. “We’ve heard that song before!” you shout. Yes, they need a new song, I agree. Jimmy Butler is out for another few weeks with a sprained knee. Mike Dunleavy has a creaky back, and has been missed on the perimeter. Derrick Rose can’t absorb contact anymore, so he avoids it, and is limited defensively. Still…Pau Gasol is Pau Gasol. Butler has become capable of lifting the Bulls all by himself (see Philadelphia game, 53 points on 26 free-throws). Derrick Rose can still score, and Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic can both shoot. There is enough here to keep the Bulls afloat, even if floating is not at all what they’d hoped for in November.

Chicago Prediction: 45 wins, 5th in East.

Chris Bosh’s uncertain health status, the up-and-down Goran Dragic, and the aging Dwyane Wade will make it tough for the Miami Heat to make a real run, despite their light last 15 games. Miami will land somewhere between 5th and 7th in the East. If Bosh is able to play at full strength, and Dragic gets his confidence and health back, the Heat could put a first round scare into Toronto or Boston, and would make life extra difficult for the Pacers.

Miami Prediction: 44 wins, 6th in East.

The Atlanta Hawks will fail to regain their swagger from last year as the lost season continues even after the trade rumors die down. Atlanta has the 3rd-toughest schedule remaining in the NBA. The Hawks will fall to 7th or 8th in the East in what will be an insanely-packed end of season battle between Atlanta, Detroit, Charlotte, and Washington for two spots. DeMarre Carroll’s absence and Jeff Teague’s struggles come into focus by season’s end. I wish things got better for Horford, Millsap, and Korver. What a great story they were last year.

Atlanta Prediction: 43 wins, 7th in East.

The Detroit Pistons are taking the shape of Stan Van Gundy. Let’s rephrase that. Stan Van Gundy, who has a round, slightly oblong shape, is a wise coach, and as GM, he is shaping his roster around his uber-talented center, Andre Drummond, and his very skillful point guard, Reggie Jackson. Detroit needed shooting. They traded for Marcus Morris to play 3/4. Morris is having a solid year. They had Jodie Meeks for balance off the bench. Injured for most of the year. They hoped Anthony Tolliver’s range would provide help. Not so much. So….Stan traded for Tobias Harris and Donatas Motiejunas. Motiejunas, whose back has been cranky all season in Houston, shot 37% from deep in 2014-15, and has an array of offensive moves. Harris is only 23, and is on a solid contract, which will look better as the cap imitates the ocean, and rises. Detroit needs to make the playoffs to prove to its fans that there is progress. The city needs it. The team needs it. It will happen.

Detroit Prediction: 43 wins, 8th in East.

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Left out of the Playoffs in this mad dash for the final three seeds: Charlotte and Washington.

Within going into much detail, both Charlotte and Washington will finish within three games of the 7th/8th bunch. Washington is the big disappointment here, as the Wizards hoped to finish with 48+ wins after some impressive playoff performances last year. Bradley Beal’s youthful knee issues and Nene’s old-fella knee issues have forced the Wizards into extreme small-ball lineups that haven’t worked out as well as planned. The addition of Markieff Morris from Phoenix can’t hurt, but they’ll need some time to build chemistry.

 

 

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2015-16 NBA Preview, Central Division: Healing Cavs, Limping Bulls, and Young Bucks

One might wonder why the NBA still separates the conferences into divisions at this point. After Portland’s 51 wins granted them the 4th seed due to winning the Northwest (thanks to OKC injuries), despite finishing with the 6th-most wins in the West, the NBA altered the automatic 4th seeding formula, so that now a division title simply means having the best year out of the five teams closest to each other.

A division title has always been small consolation for a team that is bounced out of the playoffs in the first round. A chance for a team to raise a banner to the rafters. Geographic rivalries are not meaningless, but they mean less in West, where teams are further spread out, and where history doesn’t add that second layer of drama to the proceedings. When Denver visits Salt Lake City or Phoenix visits Sacramento, a divisional opponent isn’t much more than one game on the schedule.

What the divisions do, is provide a smaller group to write about. Five teams instead of fifteen at once. The Central Division is the deepest of the three Eastern Conference divisions and I expect they will finish in the same order that they did last year.

1. Cleveland Cavs

Arrivals: Mo Williams, The Immortal Sasha Kaun
Departures: Brendan Haywood, Mike Miller
Retained: Entire roster except for Tristan Thompson

2014-15: 53-29

The Cavs started 19-20 while they learned (or didn’t learn) David Blatt’s defensive principles, and while Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love learned how to play with LeBron. Center Anderson Varejao ruptured his Achilles after 26 games. The Cavs were fodder for the NBA gossip circuit. How could LeBron’s team be under .500? Maybe it would never work in Cleveland. Of course, trading for two defensive-minded players and one unconscious three-point shooter will help. The Cavs went 34-9 after acquiring Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. They survived well-documented playoff injuries to Irving and Love and forced a 6th game with Golden State in the NBA Finals because of their defense, the undeniable rebounding of Tristan Thompson (averaged 13 rebounds per game in the Finals), and a certain superhero/athlete named LeBron.

LeBron is LeBron and LeBron is inevitable. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about the questions surrounding LeBron in Northeast Ohio.
Tristan Thompson and his agent, Rich Paul, are engaged in a staring contest with the Cavs front office. After a brilliant playoff run in which Thompson repeatedly saved the Cavs, Thompson is being offered 5 years, $80 million (similar to Draymond Green’s recent contract), and is now waiting for the Cavs to blink.
*Update (Thompson blinked—and signed on October 21st, Thompson signed for 5 / $82m)
Thompson’s stock rose throughout the playoffs, with the Cavs transforming into a defensively dominant unit after injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving forced David Blatt to install Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova into the starting five. Thompson imitated Moses Malone (may he rest in peace) in his unstoppable offensive rebounding and displayed some mean pick-and-roll defense. Thompson’s reach, strength, and instincts were perfectly suited to ruining the hopes of Chicago and Atlanta, and eventually causing headaches among Golden State’s strategists. What do you do with a player who simply refuses to be boxed out?

Cavs power forward Tristan Thompson rebounds. (AP photo)

Assessing Thompson’s value is complex. With the financial floodgates set to open next summer, Thompson is demanding a max contract. Few offensively-limited players, if any, are ever considered for maximum-level slots. In addition, Kevin Love is back and healthy in Cleveland, having just signed a max deal for 5 years / $122 million. With LeBron, Irving and Love, the Cavs don’t have a max deal available.
The Cavs will be bringing three key players back from injuries. Aside from Love’s shoulder, Kyrie Irving (foot, knee), Anderson Varejao (hair/knee), and Iman Shumpert (wrist) are all recovering from ailments. On top of everything else, LeBron received an injection in his back within the last week.
Those questions, and the fact that it is increasingly common practice (thanks to the Spurs originally), to pace a team through the overly-long 82-game regular season, the Cavs won’t squeeze wins out of the calendar in the early going. Expect closer to 50 wins rather than 60.

Prediction: 54-28, 1st in East


2. Chicago Bulls

Arrivals: N/A
Departures: Tom Thibodeau (coach), Nazr Mohammed*
Retained: Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy, Aaron Brooks

Drafted: Clinton Bobby Portis (22nd)

First off, let’s ask an existential question: What the hell did Derrick Rose do to the universe? I mean, every NBA player has to get lucky just to find themselves in an NBA uniform. But after Derrick’s MVP season in 2010-11, the man has simply been cursed. He started camp in good spirits, after an off-season without having to rehab an injury. Within days of preseason practice, he gets elbowed in the eye and is out with an orbital fracture that requires surgery. Goodness gracious. To be a Bulls fan requires a heaping of sadness on top of your cereal every morning.

The Bulls will be an experiment in the power of the new coach. Fred Hoiberg. Tom Thibodeau is apparently hanging out in Salt Lake City with legendary former Jazz coach /octogenarian Jerry Sloan. Thibs was known for his relentless obsession with defense and regular season wins. He was unfairly given the old axe by notorious Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf after all kinds of drama last spring. Now the clean-cut Hoiberg (he makes Celtics coach Brad Stevens look edgy) takes over a roster that hasn’t changed much at all, except for the addition of big man Bobby Portis, drafted out of Arkansas.

At long last, the minutes are expected to be limited. The serious depth (when the team is actually healthy, which is rarer than a Morton’s steak) the team has assembled should enable Hoiberg to keep the minutes around 30 for his aging crew of veterans. Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are all in need of leg replacement surgery. Yes, entire legs.

There’s no denying the talent on the roster. From Jimmy Butler to Gasol and Rose, to the grit of Noah and Gibson, to the offensive spark of Nikola Mirotic, Bulls fans have many reasons to be optimistic. Yet, how does a fan-base remain optimistic when tragedy so often befalls the team in the last five years? Maybe the Cubs can come up with some magic this October, and the Bulls can build off that victorious momentum. Or maybe the absence of the brilliant workaholic Thibs can allow some joy to seep into the locker room this year. Either way, the Bulls will win around 50 games. Hopefully they won’t be worn out by the end of April.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg kisses basketballs for good luck. (photo must have been a candid shot. No idea where it came from.)

Prediction: 51-31, 2nd in East


3. Milwaukee Bucks

Arrivals: Greg Monroe, Greivis Vasquez
Departures: Jared Dudley
Retained: Khris Middleton

Drafted: Rashad Vaughn (17th)

The Milwaukee Bucks have length. Their name should be changed to the Bucksss. They play defense with arms spread wide, wingspans wreaking havoc on opponent pick-and-rolls by switching everything with a deep roster of athletic swingmen.

Jabari Parker, returning from an ACL tear that forced him to miss the final 57 games of the season, may eventually become a great scorer in the NBA, but three things will keep him from making an significant impact this year. First, Khris Middleton’s range. Second, new arrival Greg Monroe’s post game. Finally, Parker’s lack of outside touch will restrict his time.  Like Giannis Antetuokuompo, Parker is a great slasher from the wing. Parker is stronger than most SFs and quicker than many PFs. If both improve their range to the corners, the Bucks can become true contenders.

John Henson’s recent extension (4/44) will look good starting in year two. Henson’s shot blocking at the rim will be badly needed next to Greg Monroe, who is allergic to shot-blocking and jumping more than nine inches off the ground.

All of this discussion and we’ve yet to mention extra-long point guard Michael Carter-Williams. MCW arrived last spring, with Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis, in a 3-way trade that sent Brandan Knight to Phoenix. Knight is a true scoring point. Carter-Williams does everything but score. Much like coach Jason Kidd in his playing days, but with weaker passing skills and yet-to-be-proven leadership, MCW is a force on the glass, a decent post-up option, and a very good defender. Can he lead an offense? Can he find something resembling a jumper? Last year, MCW shot 23.5% from deep. Unsightly.

It was a big gamble for Milwaukee, who is hoping they can rebuild MCW’s shot from the ground up. Not surprisngly, athletic, young players with extra long arms often struggle to shoot. The Bucks future depends on the shooting touch of MCW, Parker, and Giannis.

Also, I miss Larry Sanders. I will never forget that night he roamed the TD Garden paint waiting for any Celtic to attempt a lay-up or dunk. Rondo was looking over his shoulder anytime he crossed inside the three-point arc.

The Milwaukee Bucks starting five with their long arms hidden behind their backs. (Media Day photo)

Prediction: 44-38, 8th in East


4. Indiana Pacers

Arrivals: Monta Ellis, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill
Departures: David West, C.J. Watson, Roy Hibbert
Retained: Lavoy Allen, Rodney Stuckey, Shayne Whittington

Drafted: Myles Turner (11th)

2014-15: 38-44

Goodbye, Roy Hibbert. David West takes the veteran’s minimum to play in San Antonio, leaving $12m on the table for this year. Everything they say about David West being humble, being an awesome teammate, and being genuine seems true to me. The guy wants to win a championship and so he joins the franchise known for selflessness and teamwork. Go West, young man. Go David West. Out with Hibbert and West and the core interior defenders of recent Pacers contending teams. In comes Monta. Talk about a change in identity. Now Paul George will have some offensive help, but the looks that Dallas’ offense enabled for Monta will be harder to find in Indiana. Paul George might be primed for a big year, and George Hill can knock down a three-pointer, but Lavoy Allen and Jordan Hill will certainly not cause any double teams. Frank Vogel has talked openly about playing Paul George at power forward. On paper this makes sense. The Pacers simply don’t have a power foriward other than Lavoy Allen. Rookie 7-footer Myles Turner doesn’t turn 20 until March, and though he took a bunch of three-pointers in college, he didn’t hit many (27%). He also grabbed only 6.5 rebounds per game (22 min). He is so clearly NOT ready to play more than a handful of minutes a night in the NBA. And yet he may this year…

Good luck, Paul George. The wisdom of the elders is gone. It has been replaced with an aging shooting guard who was never a great shooter (Monta). Things may start slowly…

Prediction: 39-43, 9th in East

5. Detroit Pistons

Arrivals: Ersan Ilyasova, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, Danny Granger, Reggie Bullock
Departures: Greg Monroe, Caron Butler, Shawne Williams
Retained: Reggie Jackson, Joel Anthony

Drafted: Stanley Johnson (8th)

2014-15: 32-50

What you might remember from last year’s Pistons team is the fact that Josh Smith was released (contract eaten) mid-year. The team started 5-23. A team that many were predicting to win 40 games. They were 18 games under .500 before Christmas. The funny thing? They finished 18 under. Which means they were actually pretty decent for the final two-thirds of the season…once they tossed Josh Smith to the winds (don’t worry, Smith found himself playing very meaningful playoff games with Houston and is now on another contender–the Clippers.

What can the Pistons do this year? The mid-30s seems about right. Andre Drummond remains enormous, yet not quite dominant enough, thanks in part to abysmal free-throw shooting, and a lack of help around him. Small forward Stanley Johnson has everyone intrigued. Point guard Reggie Jackson can put up solid numbers, but this will be his first attempt at leading a team from opening night. The Pistons will miss Greg Monroe’s steady post play. Aron Baynes has a nice accent, but his post-play is more awkward than steady.

Prediction: 35-47, 11th in East

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