Chicago Bulls / NBA (56)
Articles, interviews, and updates with and about the Chicago Bulls and other NBA teams.
The group of men who have been chosen first overall in the NBA draft is an elite fraternity. They almost always walk into a broken down team with an entire franchise and city’s hope resting squarely on their shoulders. Not everyone has lived up to the expectations that come with the territory. For every LeBron James there’s a Greg Oden. For every Allen Iverson there’s a Kwame Brown. Monday night at the United Center, two men who have thrived as top overall picks squared off for the first time in their burgeoning careers. Any hype swirling around Monday’s Bulls-Cavs game focused on the showdown between Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving, but both players struggled to make their impact felt. It was the Bulls’ defense that took center stage down the stretch in a 96-81 Chicago win.
The strong finish was a welcome sight for Bulls’ fans, who have watched the team be badly outplayed down the stretch in losses to Indiana and Philadelphia. It’s safe to take your finger away from the panic button now that the team has pulled back to .500 at 3-3. Rose certainly ended up with the better statistical night of he and Irving, but the real hero of the matchup was the Bulls’ team defense on Kyrie. Irving ended with a respectable line of 16 points and 4 assists, but he shot just 5-of-19 from the floor and committed 3 turnovers. He didn’t make his first field goal until the final minute of the 3rd quarter. “Every time I’ve played against the Bulls, Coach Thibodeau just does an excellent job of corralling me into a little bit of space,” explained Irving, “and they do a great job of loading up and making it tough on me.” Derrick Rose echoed that sentiment, mentioning that, “It’s really not me going out there and trying to play him a certain way. It’s the team.”
Despite a somewhat lopsided final score, Chicago really struggled to put the Cavs away in this game. They played from ahead for the majority of the game, but every time it seemed like the Bulls were on the cusp of breaking it open, the Cavaliers would do just enough to stay in striking distance. In the first quarter, the Bulls got up by 6, but C.J Miles drilled a triple in the closing seconds of the quarter to cut it to 3. In the 2nd quarter, the Bulls pushed the lead all the way to 12, but Dion Waiters cut it back down to 7 with back-to-back buckets in the final minute of the half. A Jimmy Butler layup at the buzzer pushed it back to 9 at the break. The 3rd quarter was more of the same. The Bulls came out hot and got in an offensive rhythm, building up a 13-point lead 4 minutes into the half, but the offense sputtered after that, allowing Cleveland to creep back in once more. Tristan Thompson and Andrew Bynum got going with 10 combined points on a 16-8 Cavs run that cut the lead to 5. The spurt carried over into the 4th with Kyrie Irving heating up, and Cleveland got within 1 at 68-67 with 10 minutes to go. They were never able to get over the hump and take the lead, however.
Cleveland had 2 chances with the ball down just 1, and failed on both opportunities. First it was a Kyrie Irving miss from 6 feet, then an Anderson Varejao offensive foul that stymied the Cavs’ efforts. That was the last chance the Cavs would get to pull ahead. Carlos Boozer knocked down a midrange jumper to open the lead to 3, then after a Chicago stop Mike Dunleavy managed to get fouled on a 3-pointer and knocked down all three shots from the charity stripe. The next couple minutes turned into the Rose and Dunleavy show. Rose made 2 explosive layups and Dunleavy knocked down a couple big shots including one from beyond the arc and another 2 shots from the free throw line as the lead ballooned to 11. Rose’s second layup sent him to the bench with a tweaked hamstring, but it didn’t matter in this game. The damage was done. The Bulls managed to hold on for a 15-point win.
The Bulls’ 4th quarter dominance came in 2 areas: on the defensive end and on the glass. They held the Cavs to just 6-of-19 shooting for the quarter and outrebounded them 14 to 6. They also turned 4 Cleveland turnovers into 8 points. The shooting of Dunleavy was a big plus, but the Bulls simply smothered the Cavs on the defensive end. This is exactly what Bulls’ fans are used to seeing. The defense dominates one end of the floor, and Rose dominates the other. One out of two isn’t bad while Rose rounds back into form, and he doesn’t seem that far away. Cavs’ coach Mike Brown wasn’t pleased with the way his young team handled Chicago’s defensive pressure. “When we hit adversity tonight, we didn’t handle it well,” lamented Coach Brown. “Chicago got up in us. They tried to take us out of our stuff. We hit a little bit of adversity and we didn’t do a good job of handling it. Mentally and physically they just did what they wanted to with us.”
For the night, the overall numbers weren’t all that lopsided aside from the final score. Both teams shot around 41%, the Bulls were +3 on the glass and both teams scored 16 2nd chance points. The one area the Cavs were demolished was in turnovers and points off them. Chicago scored 29 points off 20 Cleveland turnovers, and the Cavaliers scored just 9 off of 11 Bulls’ TOs. “We just didn’t execute,” mentioned Cavs’ guard Jarrett Jack in reference to the turnover struggles. “We need to learn like in baseball to hit singles and not go for homerun passes all the time.”
Tristan Thompson led the way statistically for Cleveland, tallying 14 points and 13 rebounds. It was Thompson’s 5th double-double in 8 games this season. Kyrie Irving did lead the team with his 16 points, but it was Thompson’s play that kept the Cavs in the game in the 3rd and into the 4th. 2nd year guard Dion Waiters was the worst offender in terms of turnovers with 6 on the night, but he did add 13 points, 2 boards, 2 assists and 2 blocks. C.J. Miles scored 9 points off the bench and Anderson Varejao scored 5 and grabbed 6 rebounds. Matthew Dellavedova scored his first 2 NBA points in the game, and struggling number-1 pick Anthony Bennett was left on the bench in this one. Bennett has made just 1 field goal thus far in his young career.
The biggest surprise from Cleveland on Monday night was the play of Andrew Bynum. In a little bit of gamesmanship on the part of Mike Brown, Bynum wasn’t announced as a starter until right before tipoff, and Cleveland tried to get him going quickly. They fed him in the post early and he scored 7 of their first 10 points, but it was clear that his knees are still a bit of an issue. He was limited to just 21 minutes for the game, and didn’t play at all in the 2nd or 4th quarters. Bynum ended up with 11 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists, but also committed 3 turnovers, 2 of which were bad miscommunications in which he threw the ball to no one. It will take some time for him to get adjusted to playing with his new team. “We just don’t know how to play with a guy like that yet,” commented Brown. “Every time he touched the ball on the block, something good happened. When they double-teamed, he kicked the ball out for a 3. I’d love to establish him down low, and that’s what we wanted to do tonight.” We’re just 6 games into the season, so the Cavs have time to adjust to the big man, but it will all hinge on the health of Bynum’s knees. He did say he was contemplating retirement a couple weeks ago.
The Bulls were paced offensively on Monday by Carlos Boozer’s 17 points. Boozer has been much more consistent on the offensive end than Bulls’ fans have been used to, averaging 18 points a game (his highest mark as a Bull). He shot 7-of-11 for the game and added 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Luol Deng struggled with his shot but still scored 12 points and added 5 boards and 3 dimes. Joakim Noah was limited by foul trouble, but still wound up with 10 points, 6 boards and 3 steals. The bench made a big impact in this one as well. Taj Gibson (9 pts, 8 boards, 3 blocks) and Kirk Hinrich (6 pts, 3 boards, 7 assists) made several clutch plays, but the bench star in this one was Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy scored 15 points (10 in the 4th), grabbed 4 rebounds and dished out 2 assists. His big shots in the 4th were the key to Chicago blowing the game open, and it was fitting since his college coach (Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski) and his Duke players were in the building watching. Boozer and Deng also played their college ball at Duke. Dunleavy seems to be finding his niche with this team quickly.
As for the Derrick Rose, his stat line wasn’t overwhelming. He scored 16 points on 8-of-21 shooting, but he had a season-high 7 assists and more importantly, a season-low zero turnovers in the Bulls’ victory. He was starting to flash the speed and explosiveness that make him the star that he is when his night was derailed by a tweaked hamstring. Rose was pulled with 3:15 to go, but it seems to be more of a precaution. Coach Thibodeau said that “it appears to be minor,” and Derrick agreed in his postgame comments. “Just a minor sprain, nothing serious,” explained Rose. When asked if he expected to be ready to play Friday, Derrick answered: “I should be. It’s really not that big at all.” The injury took a little bit of the thunder out of the D-Rose vs. Kyrie matchup, but they will certainly square off again.
Cleveland appears to be on the right track as a team. In a very top-heavy Eastern Conference, they should be able to find their way to a playoff spot over some lackluster competition, but the key to getting there will be integrating Bynum and keeping him healthy. It’s amazing that this team might not need much of a contribution from the number 1 overall pick to make the playoffs, but that is the case right now. Kyrie and Dion Waiters are an imposing backcourt, and when they go small and bring in Jarrett Jack along with those 2, it’s very difficult to match up with. They also have great versatility in the frontcourt with Thompson, Varejao and Alonzo Gee along with Bynum, but it all depends on health. Varejao missed most of last season, Irving has had his own injury issues, and Bynum’s struggles are well documented. One thing the Cavs aren’t short on is confidence, at least as far as their point guard is concerned. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” asserted Irving. “We’re all basketball players here. It’s what we get paid to do, so we’ve got to figure it out, and we will.” I agree with Kyrie and fully believe the Cavs will still be playing beyond 82 games.
As far as Chicago is concerned, it’s nice to get back to .500, but that is obviously not the goal. Everyone in the locker room was spitting out the same company line about improvement. “The big thing is to concentrate on our improvement,” mentioned Thibs. “We’ve got to just keep improving,” claimed Joakim. The Bulls are never satisfied after a win, and that’s a good thing. They managed to clean up the turnover issues that have been plaguing them, even if only for one game, but in order to keep piling up wins they know they need to continue to work and to get better. The upcoming schedule is daunting, with 7 of their next 9 games on the road. Things are starting to come together, but they need to show an ability to put together a full 48 minutes of good basketball. They played Indy even for 3 quarters before getting crushed in the 4th. They were dominating Philly into the 3rd before falling apart. They were crushed by Miami in the 2nd quarter. They have to start playing more consistently from start to finish in each game.
“We’ve just got to stick with it,” mentioned Dunleavy when asked when the team would be able to put together a full 48 minutes. “It’s not an easy thing to do, probably the toughest thing to do in this league. There are a lot of great teams, so to think you’re going to go out and put it on people for 48 minutes every night….You’d like to do that, but it’s not maybe realistic. We’ve just got to keep grinding at it, keep thinking we’re going to do it. We will.” With drill sergeant Thibs in charge and Derrick Rose rounding into form, I’d expect the Bulls to start putting full games together sooner than later. The league better take their shots at the Bulls while they can. The D-Rose revival tour is coming. Soon.
When the East is in the house OMG!!! Miami is still the top dog when it comes to the NBA, and they made some key pick-ups that could keep them on top for a lot longer if they pan out. But are they ready for "The Return"? Did Brooklyn's addition of KG and The Truth move them a step closer to a title? Or are Melo and the Knicks ready to take the thrown? here's your Eastern conference preview!
Head Coach - Dwayne Casey
Toronto is an interesting little place to be in the NBA. How so? Well when mentioning a franchise the first name you mention is hip hop star Drake becoming the team ambassador, well that’s interesting. He’s looking to give the club a make-over, everything but the name of course. Well some good roster moves also help with that make-over. So here’s what we got - Kyle Lowery worked hard to show people he wasn’t some chubby chipmunk trying to play point guard. He’s gotten faster, improved his jumper, and overall just looks like a much better player. This will do him well considering his back-up DJ Augustin somehow went in the opposite direction. There is a good chance my first step could blow past DJ, thats how bad he looked defending players.
Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan are your starters at the 2 and 3. These two are the leaders of the team, the stars, the scorers, the reason people are coming to see raptors games. That won’t change. This team will only improve with the development of DeRozan, who has gotten a lot better. He’s using his size to take advantage of smaller guards, which will happen a lot. Terrance Ross has its moments. Sometimes he looks like he’s ready to be a really good player, shooting 3,s, big dunks, great defense. And then he has his nights where you think he left his game in the locker-room…the locker- room at the practice facility. Landry Fields his recovering from injury, but he’s also a solid 2/3 the team needs. Steve Novak, a 6’10 3 point specialist from the Knicks will be a big help on the perimeter. So far so good, right?
Tyler Hansborough comes over from Indiana with a chance to claim the starting 4 spot and become the fan favorite he’s meant to be. No one works like Psycho T, and now that he’ll actually have time minutes to work with he could have a breakout season. Team fights is not an option here as the Raptors has the scariest bench since Friday the 13th. If you saw Amir Johnson and Quincy Acy anywhere in the world besides a basketball court you’d run in the other direction. They are big scary rebounding, dunking, screen-setting montsers with interesting facial hair. Austin Daye can play 3 positions, including shoot the 3, while Aaron Gray is your back up center. Jonas Valancuinas is the starting center. If this team is going to contend for the play-offs they will need a big season from Jonas, as offensively he’s the only scoring threat in the post.
However its never a good sign when your mascot gets injured in the pre-season.
Lowery - pg Gay - sf Valancuinas - c
DeRozan - sg Hansborough - pf 6th - Ross
Head Coach - Randy Whitman
There’s so much potential here. There’s a promise of the play-offs, which could happen. There’s a great veteran presence mixed with some excellent talent. Just a matter of it all coming together. The team is led by point guard John Wall, who is on he verge of being one of the league’s best point guards. The Wizards will go only where he takes them. Eric Maynor is a solid back-up, while backcourt mate Bradley Beal has shown to be a good compliment to the things Wall does. He needs to improve his outside shooting a bit more for the Wizards to really be successful. Josh Childress can also play 2 and 3, a long-armed athletic defender who has more to offer than what he’s shown last season. Rookie Glen Rice jr. could also give you some minutes.
Otto Porter was drafted to fill the small forward spot, unfortunately he starts the year off with an injured hip. Al Harrington brings a veteran presence and can fill the void for a while, just as Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster can. Chris Singleton gives you more bodies off the bench, but nothing too special. Same goes for Garrett Temple.
Martin Gortat was brought in at the end of pre-season and will grab the starting center spot. He's a mobile big man with a high reboung and field goal percentage, which benefits the wizards trendously. This means Nene will get the start at power forward or can play some back-up center. The Wizards are expecting a bounce-back year from him. Kevin Seraphin will get minutes backing up both spots, as will Trevor Booker, both hard knocks rebounders.
Wall - pg Porter - sf Gortat- c
Beal - sg Nene - pf 6th - Ariza
Head Coach – Rod Higgins
Alright, let’s get into it. Kemba Walker may not be the best option for point guard, but he’s the best option here. He’s pretty steady, can shoot, and attacks the rim well, plus he stays healthy. Ramon sessions is looking for a home and just may have finally found one. He’s more of a scorer, but still a good back-up pg. Gerald Henderson has proven to be a solid, serviceable shooting guard who can also play some 3. His numbers seem to get better every season. Ben Gordon arrives as the team’s best 6th man option in years, plus he can play some point if necessary.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist gets the start at small forward, with Jeff Taylor backing him up. again, Henderson can also fill in at 3, so there’s no big loss either way. In the post is where things get messy. so lets just rule out Bismack from the equation. he’ll be lucky to see the floor. Step your game up! Josh McRoberts is the key back-up at the 4 and the 5. how and where Higgins decides to play Al Jefferson and Cody Zellner. Jefferson can play either position, while Zellner still has to fill out, but as of now he’s listed as the 4. Hmmm. Brendan Haywood and Anthony Tolliver are also in the post, sitting on the bench somewhere. as for Bismack…don’t hold your breath.
Walker – pg Kidd-Gilchrist – sf Jefferson – c
Henderson – sg Zellner – pf 6th - Gordon
Head coach – Jacque Vaughn
What an interesting web being weaved in Orlando. First off, hey fake Superman, are you really surprised they didn’t retire your jersey? You caused more headaches than games you won in Orlando, I cant wait for the great reception you get when you return. Go get another coach fired. Sorry, I lost it for a second.
The starting line-up is very interesting. Jameer Nelson and Aaron Afflalo will be your starting guards. Nelson is nothing special, just an above average point guard running point. Afflalo has his moments of great. usually the team’s leading scorer and best defender, he’s great trade bait. The forward spots are the most intriguing. Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless, both 6’9, came into the league playing completely different positions. Both long and big, Harkless is now getting minutes at the 3 and occasionally the 2, while a beefed-up Harris has made the move from 2 to 4. Harkless needs to develop a better shot to stick at 3, while Harris is to slow to guard 3’s but too quick for any 4’s that would guard him. He was the team’s best player at the end of the season, so expect him to continue down that path. Starting at center is the steady Nikola Vucevic. Big Nik was 2nd in rebounding last season, as well as breaking Shaq’s record for double doubles in Orlando.
The bench is made up of an interesting crew. There’s veterans who are there to guide and lead the youngsters. Jason Maxwell and Glen Davis are small 4’s who bring energy and strength off the bench. Andrew Nicholson had a respectable 1st year, and will be counted on to provide more. being a 6’9 power forward who can shoot the 3, he provides a very interesting match-up problem the better he gets. E’twaun Moore was off to a good start at back-up point before he got injured. the real star of the show is the 2nd pick in the draft Victor Oladipo . Full of energy and a great shooter, he’ll come off the bench, but should make Afflalo expendable by mid-season. A very under-stated game until you seem him play, is a cornerstone of the new magic.
Nelson - pg Harkless - sf c - Vucevic
Afflalo - sg Harris - pf 6th - Oladipo
Head Coach – Brett Brown
New head coach, new general manager…man, it was all good just a week ago. remember when Doug Collins was running things, they beat the Bulls, even got Andrew Bynum…the future was looking good, just a year ago.
So here we are, already in mid-rebuild mode. what the hell happened? oh well, here’s what we got:
So the 76’ers drafted a new point guard…clearly not needing the young all-star point guard they already had. Michael Carter-Williams will run the show in Phili, with only Tony Wroten and Darius Morris challenging him for a back-up role….wow, three unproven players running the offense, that’s a good idea. Thankfully Evan Turner can run point, too, along with being asked to do everything else.
Your shooting guard and small forward options are the old and often-injured Jason Richardson, James Anderson, and Evan Turner, who is now the face of the franchise. Turner will have the go light all day long as right now this is his team to lose. Khalif Wyatt, Royce White (no planes for Royce, please) and Rodney Williams are also on board, and both will be given significant time to show that they belong. Thaddeus Young will play the power forward spot, even though he’s a much better 3. he needs to rebound and not get thrown out of the post. this will also give guys like Arnett Moultrie and LaVoy Allen a chance to grow. Kwame Brown gives them a veteran look off the bench who can play either 4 or 5.
Spencer Hawes will man the center position until rookie Nerlens Noel arrives. Noels injured his knee in college and may just sit out the year, which is fine. He has no true offensive gave, but has a defensive presence much like Dikembe Mutombo had. He can use the time to recover and learn the game as he’s also looked upon as the future of Phili.…a future filled with lottery rips and high draft picks.
Man, it was all good just a week ago….
Carter-Williams – pg Turner – sf Hawes – c
Richardson – sg Young – pf 6th – Noel
Head Coach – Mike Budenholzer
It will be an interesting season in Atlanta. Hopefully they didn’t trade away any draft picks because they should get a pretty high pick after this season. My buddy Jason Goff just moved to Atlanta, now working pre-game for the Hawks, and luckily for him he gets to emerse himself in some god-awful basketball. Why awful?
Kyle Korver is currently your starting small forward. There’s nothing great about that whatsoever. Korver is a good player, and a great shooter, however any small forward at an all-star level is circling date they get to play the Hawks, as Korver’s defense isn’t…eh, well let’s not call it defense. Jeff Teague wanted a bigger role in the offense, and almost left town. Expect more of a scoring output from Teague this season, His backcourt mate will be Louis Williams, a former point guard who sill out recovering from 2013’s season-ending injury.
Derrick Schroeder wowed many during the summer, and will be looked upon to fill both back-up guard roles, if not take the starting spot while Williams gets healthy. The Hawks expected more from John Jenkins this summer and were only under-whelmed. Hopefully this his shooting touch finds its comfort zone and he becomes the player most think he can be.
The post has a lot more answers than the backcourt, thankfully. Al Horford is still the team’s best player, and unfortunately still the team’s starting center. Paul Milsap comes over from Utah to solidify the power forward position, with Elton Brand coming off the bench. That’s an interesting trio. The team is also expecting big things from Mike Scott, who impressed with limited minutes last season. The hawks are also hoping for contributions from Shelvin Mack and Jared Cunningham.
It’s no secret the hawks will be counting on their outside shot falling and muscling ownership of the post. If that doesn’t happen every night, and it won’t, well that lottery draft can’t come soon enough.
Teague – pg Korver – sf Horford – c
Schroeder – sg Milsap – pf 6th – Williams/Brand
Head Coach – Larry Drew
Fear the Deer! It’s interesting, because the Bucks are not a bad team. Infact, defensively they have the potential to be something special. They have a weird dynamic of players who do many different things, while at the same time all very similarly above average. I’ll explain what I mean.
Look at the front court. Larry Sanders and John Henson are both long defensive-minded young forwards you don’t really wanna challenge near the rim. Add rookie Giannis Antetupounmpo to the mix with his athletism, mixed with the rebounding skills and production of Ersan Iyasova, along with 6’ll Ekpe Udoh, and the Bucks have one of the best young posts in basketball. But who’s gonna score?? The Bucks also have Zaza Pachula at center, who is a better than average back-up.
Caron Butler comes home…finally. I expect a very productive season from Butler, who’s finally in familiar surroundings. Khris Middleton was a great scorer the season he spent at Texas, and with development could turn into a good player. Until that happens, the Carlos Delfino is back. Delfino loves Milwaukee and had his best seasons with the Bucks shooting-wise. Gary neal also comes to the Bucks, a good defender and another good shooter.
The Brandon Jennings era is officially over, however the OJ Mayo movement has begun. Mayo will be given the freedom to become the leader of this team. He has the green light to score, while his new backcourt mate, Brandon Knight, will be happy to help facilitate.
Knight is also a young,. skilled guard with potential, who won’t take as many bad shots as Jennings did. He also won’t put up the points Jennings did. The Bucks also brought back former team leader Luke Ridnour to teach and develop Knight, and will probably get more of the minutes during crunchtime.
Knight – pg Butler – sf Sanders – c
Mayo – sg Henson – pf 6th - Iyasava
Head Coach - Mike Brown
Uncle Drew has some new friends to play with. Once LBJ left Cleveland I guess the Cavs felt they had nothing else to lose. Drafting Kyrie Irving has turned out to be a five-star move. Irving has stepped his game up each year, and is making strides to become a yearly all-star weekend member. Can he carry this team to the next level? Who knows, but he’ll have some help in trying.
Smart move bringing back coach Mike Brown. This team is very athletic and offensively gifted, so bringing in a defensive-minded coach is great for these youngsters. Irving will get a lot of help from the vastly improved Dion Waiters. He will fill that2 guard spot perfectly, giving the Cavs two big scoring threats. Another huge move was bringing in Jarrett Jack, who’s just been incredible the last few years. A great outside shooter and leader, he can play each guard spot. Matthew Dellavedova was brought in as a back-up to the back-up.
The return of Brown mixes with the emergence of some overly-athletic small forwards who seem to produce for him. Earl Clark strived with the Lakers when brown was coach, and its said that Alonzo Gee responds really well to Brown’s coaching. Both aren’t stars and won’t be asked to carry the scoring load, but they produce. Somehow they contribute. Also add CJ Miles to that mix. Clark can also play the 4, while Miles can line up as a guard, all great things to have on your bench.
What contributions the team gets from Carrick Felix or Sergey Karasev will have to be seen.
Now here comes the fun part. The Cavs had the 1st pick of the 2013 draft and chose Anthony Bennett. Bennett could play the 3, although he’s not in shape enough, nor ishe ready to play 3. He’s a 4 at the moment, but he has potential down the line to be a successful 3. For now another draft pick, Tristian Thompson is having a great pre-season and has the job.
Anderson Varejao was a very productive center before he got injured. His field goal percentage and rebounding ability. Along with his energy, was a huge plus to the cavs. Now that he’s healthy expect that same kind of play…until Bynum shows up. The team to a risk on Andrew Bynum and so far it looks like it may pay off. He’s getting healthier, in better shape, and could actually be in the line-up before too long. Bynum is a game-changer, a 20 ppg type player. Mix him with this offense, knowing you don’t need to rush him back….things are looking up.
Irving - pg Bennett - sf Bynum - c
Waiters - sg Thompson - pf 6th - Jack/Varejao
Head Coach - Mo Cheeks
If Detroit thinks they can get away with the garbage they’ve been throwing out there during pre-season then it’s going to be an ugly season in the motor city. Singler at starting shooting guard? Really? Come on.
So don’t be surprised if Greg Monroe gets traded. They already have Andre Drummond signed at center, plus with bringing in Josh Smith, who’s a better 4 than 3. Bring some more talent to this team. Since we’re focused on the post, Jonas Jerbas and Charlie Villanueva are also down there, along with Josh Harrelson. Look for Tony Mitchell to get some time.
Kyle Singler is a very productive sub who can play the 3 or 4...and apparently the 2? Yikes. The Pistons signed Luigi Datome, the former Italian league MVP. He’s a tremendous shooter who just needs to adjust to the American game.
The backcourt is the fun part. Brandon Jennings was brought in to help take the Pistons into a new era. Jennings is a scorer and his play alone could elevate Detroit’s overall play. To help Jennings become a more complete point guard they called on former champion and team captain Chauncey Billups, who can play either guard spot if necessary. The fact that there are finally two official point guards (well three including Will Bynum) means Rodnet Stuckey can focus primarily on scoring and defense, that is once he gets back from breaking his thumb. The Pistons also drafted ketavious Caldwell-Pope, who has a great shot, can defend very well, and will fight for that starting spot by the All-Star break.
The Pistons will be good, but they have to get healthy and finally click as a team, which probably won’t happen til late in the year.
Jennings - pg Smith - sf Drummond - c
Stuckley - sg Monroe - pf 6th - Singler
Head Coach - Brad Smith
Many people expect Brad Smith to fail. They expect Danny Ainge’s dream of rebuilding and getting back to the top to fall flat. Unfortunately it won’t happen with this roster. While there’s work to be done, the Celtics have put together an interesting bunch of veterans and youngsters who can still compete for a play-off spot in the east.
It all starts with Rondo. When he gets back that will change everything. Will he be traded for more talent? Remains to be seen. But until then he’s the starting point and the best player on the team. Rondo leads the charge for a solid group of guards. Avery Bradley is a great defensive guard, however he’s shown to be a better 2 than 1.Phil Pressey has looked good in pre-season and can also play point. The team also has Jordan Crawford, along with Courtney Lee. Lee is a solid guard who’s game seems to be in decline. If only MarShon Brooks could play any kind of defense he’d take that starting job, but unfortunately brooks only knows the Bill Murray style of play: no defense allowed.
Keith Bogans is a great veteran presence on the bench, and he can hit the 3 for you, but he won’t get much time with Gerald Wallace and Jeff Green in front of him. Both play the 3 and can play the 4 in a small line-up. Brandon bass is a tough rebounded and solid 4. He can score a little, however he won’t be able to contain Jared Sullinger for long. Sullinger has shown he’s a monster in the post this pre-season, and also showed signs of it last season. A little consistency and the job is his for keeps. This makes things interesting for bass and Kris Humphries, who since his dabble in reality tv has seen his game go from prime time to late nite infomercials. He’s now a solid bench player. Still a good rebounder and good defender, he’ll get time at the 4 and 5. He’ll probably get the start at 5 for now, but expect rookie Kelly Olynyk to be the starter before long. Olynyk has had a great summer, and just like Sullinger will grab that spot for keeps with a little consistency.
Rondo - pg Green - sf Olynyk - c
Lee - sg Sullinger - pf 6th - Wallace/Humphries
5. New York Knicks
Head coach – Mike Woodson
Mike Woodson will have his hands full this year. The Knicks have a reason to be confident as basketball-wise they are loaded with talent. They could be one of the most talented if not toughest teams in the league. From top to bottom the Knicks can compete. At point guard Raymond Felton will start, with no Bibby, or Kidd, or any other golden age point guard. Felton is a solid guard who can shoot and play good defense. He’s exactly what a team like this needs, unselfish and plays defense, not many mistakes. Behind him are big shot Beno Udrih and Pablo Prigioni, both experienced, both good shooters. None of these guys are going to put any fear in the heart of DRose, but hey, they are solid.
Imani Shumpert is a great guy to have on your whether he’s starting or off the bench. Shumpert is a good scorer and takes it to the hole relentlessly. He generally starts but it may be tough to keep JR Smith on the bench any longer. JR is quickly becoming a star and the 32 guy on this Knicks team. A scoring machine, JR needs to get his off-court antics together, as he’s already going to miss time.
Tim Hardaway jr was drafted over the summer and he can play the 2 or 3. He’s looked good this summer and should get significant time. The Knicks also picked up Chris Douglas-Roberts off the free agent market.
CDR is a 6’7 shooter and will land a job somewhere if he doesn’t stick here. James White is also on the roster just in case the And 1 guys stop by and want a dunk contest. But this team revolves around Carmelo Anthony. Akll that free agent talk needs to stop as NYC is where he belongs and he needs to carry this team if they really expect to compete for the top spot. Melo has the potential to make this team great,but he has to get his mind on this season and not the next.
You’re not going to out-tough the Knicks down low. Amare Stoudamire is back and healthy, while defensive juggernaut Tyson Chandler will still man the 5 spot. If any one of them misses time or gets in foul trouble there’s Andrei Bargnani and Kenyon Martin. And if that doesn’t fit into your diet how about a healthy dose of Metta World Peace, who will get time at the 3 and the 4. Whoa.
The Knicks are still trying to figure out who to keep between Cole Aldrich, Josh Powell, or Toure Murry, all serviceable players, but the core of this team is set and ready to make big moves this season.
Felton – pg Anthony – sf Chandler – c
Smith – sg Stoudamire – pf 6th – Shumpert
4. Brooklyn Nets
Head Coach – Jason Kidd
Is Brooklyn in the house? Without a doubt, although it seems like Boston lite these days. You may be able to move teams but you can’t change colors per say, so the nets resemble what the Celtics looked like last season somewhat, and its not just because the team’s top guys are KG and Paul Pierce. They still have that now or never feel…maybe its because of new coach Jason Kidd. Who knows. Either way pierce is trying to change that in trying to get everyone to defer to Deron Williams as the guy.
Williams is the guy. It’s his team and finally he has some real players behind him. Joe Johnson will play the 2 and will be looked upon to score more than he did last season. Jason terry also made the trip from Boston to play 6th man again, while Shaun Livingston will be the back-up point guard. Tyshawn Taylor is also on the roster but how much time he actually gets will be shocking. This is clearly a veteran-ran team.
Paul Pierce and KG reclaim the 3 and 4 just like they did in Boston. They give the Nets a toughness they were missing in the past. And unlike in Boston, KG and Pierce won’t be relied on to carry the team, as they can play the 4th and 5th options. Andrei Korlenko is the 1st option off the bench at both positions, a solid player and even better defender. The Nets also have Alan Anderson and Reggie Evans on the bench. Look for Evans to get lots of time as KG really wants him as his wingman.
Andre Blanche will get lots of time. His game has matured being around actual professionals. He’ll back up Brooke Lopez, who if healthy will have this team all to himself to be the big dog. He could become the league’s best center if he stays healthy, as no other big man in the East can handle him.
Williams – pg Pierce – sf Lopez – c
Johnson – sg Garnett – pf 6th – Terry
3. Indiana Pacers
Head coach – Frank Vogel
In wanting to get better they just may have gotten worse. So here’s what happened: The Pacers are convinced they have the firepower to take out the Heat. Great. Yes they have some tremendous athletes, however this team is not as close to the promised land as they think. The return of Danny Granger to his true form would help, but losing the energetic Psycho T doesn’t. While having Luis Scola on your bench is a great addition, Hansborough brough a toughness and energy that Scola doesn’t have. Also bringing in CJ Watson isn’t going to help. Both the Bulls and heat have proven they can rattle CJ when it matters.
Paul George is becoming one of the league’s best players. He can carry this team for only so far, whoever he’s gotten a lot better and needs to be more aggressive. Chris Copeland and Solomon Hill are both good players but nothing special. Same goes for starting point guard George Hill. And Lance Stevenson should help them emencely, since he can play up to 3 positions.
The core of this team is set, yet they aren’t as deep as the Knicks or athletic as the other two top teams on the East. The one advantage they may have is the 7 foot Roy Hibbert manning the middle. Depending on what day you wake up, depends on which Roy Hibbert you’ll get. While his inconsistencey sucks, he was an all-star. Plus his partner in the post is David West, a big tough power forward with a little jump shot to match.
Hill – pg George – sf Hibbert – c
Granger – sg West – pf 6th – Stevenson/Scola
2. Chicago Bulls
Head Coach – Tom Thibodeau
This team is one of the few teams that can match if not beat Miami. They aren’t intimidated and completely believe they are better than the Heat. And that’s completely true, if they stay healthy. And all of that starts with the point guard, the return of Derrick Rose. Rose returned this pre-season and looked to be getting back to the MVP form he once was in before the injury. Now stronger with a better 3 point shot, a motivated Rose is a very dangerous Rose.
The Bulls supporting cast is better than ever. Back are Boozer, Deng, and Noah, all former all-stars. Jimmy Butler has won the starting 2 spot and his development over the season should be something to watch. He continues to get better. His play moves captain Kirk Hinrich to the bench where he’s a great two-way guard. Giving the bench even more depth is the addition of 3 point ace Mike Dunleavy jr. Taj Gibson is used to being the best player on the bench but not this year. This team has depth. Nazr Mohammad is the back up center and actually looks alive this year, while Maquis Teague is still developing as a point guard. He had a tremendous summer league. The Bulls also drafted Erik Murphy and Tony Snell, two very active youngsters who defend very well and can shoot.
Yet it all falls on the health of the team and DRose. Is he ready to lead his team past the Heat?
Rose – pg Deng – sf Noah – c
Butler – sg Boozer – pf 6th – Hinrich/Gibson/Dunleavy
1. Miami Heat
Head coach – Erik Spoelstra
To be the man you gotta beat the man, and until someone beats Miami, they will remain the top team in the NBA. The Heat still has one of the best rosters from top to bottom. Loaded with deadly shooters, the heat did something remarkable and re-stocked the post. With guys like James Jones and Rashard Lewis just waiting in the wings, and youngster such as Eric Griffin.
The bench is very good. Shane Battier is still a great defender and a tremendous 3 point shooter, backed up by “Jesus Shuttlesworth” himself, Ray Allen. Norris Cole is the back-up pg, while the post is covered by Birdman! Birdman! Chris Anderson. And then it gets scary…the Heat took a flier on center Greg Oden. If Oden can get and stay healthy, and this is a big if then the Heat may have found a huge diamond in the rough. Oden could change the way you play against the heat. The heat also brought back their former lottery pick Michael Beasley. If Beasley can get his head straight with Miami, he could be a great option in the post.
And then there’s the starters. Chambers and Haslem have been around forever, and they do their job, which is contribute when you can and stay out of the way. Bosh played a lot more at center and it definitely helped in the end. DWade is getting a ton more help off the bench, but when healthy is still one of the best guards going. As for King LBJ, well don’t be surprised if he gets MVP #4 on the way to title #4.
Chambers – pg James – sf Bosh – c
Wade – sg Haslem – pf 6th – Allen/Battier/Birdman
We all know the best the NBA has to offer is in the East, but what’s going on with the Western Conference. Well here’s a who’s who of the West and who to expect from the best teams in the West.
Head coach - Michael Malone
The Kings are clearly in franchise rebuild mode 2.0. Trading away your best player, moving then not moving to Seattle, new big name owner - not to mention the wholesale changes made on the roster - yeah, rebuild mode 2.0 sounds just about right.
Let’s look at the positives, which is tremendous guard play. Greivis Vazquez is a tremendously underrated point guard who has the size to play small forward if necessary. Greatly unselfish, Vazquez’ versatility only opens doors for explosive players like Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette. The Kings drafted Ray McCullom, a 6’3 point guard, along with Kansas freshman and lights-out scorer Ben McLemore. Many consider McLemore the most talented player in the 2013 NBA draft, and he will be looked upon to provide big . The Kings will also be looking for bigger numbers from starting shooting guard Marcus Thornton. Thorton is a solid starting shooting guard, a veteran who McLemore will have a hard time beating out to start...this year.
Things get messy from here on. DeMarcus Cousins has been compared to Derrick Coleman a lot, and if he got his head on right could be the best big man in the NBA. He can shoot, he’s quicker than most 4 or 5’s, and around the basket he can be just a monster. However his mind seems to be on everything else rather than being a professional. With the addition of Shaq to the organization, not just as an owner but as Cousin’s mentor, might Cousins finally get on the right track? The Kings also offer some big questions on who to play with Cousins. With no true center, do you go with the worker bee Carl Landry? Or how about long-time King and the versatile 6’11 Jason Thompson. Then again how do you keep the 6’9 greyhound Patrick Patterson off the court? No matter how you play it the Kings will get good production off the bench, especially with veterans Landry, John Salmons, and Luc Mbah a Moute on the roster.
The Kings aren’t going anywhere this year. New coach Michael Malone (who also brought along dad Brendan as an assistant) has one job, and it’s not winning. That job is develop these young kids and help turn Cousins into the All-Star he could/should be.
Vazquez - pg McLemore -sf Cousins - c
Thornton - sg Patterson - pf 6th - Thomas
New Orleans Pelicans
Head Coach - Monty Williams
I know you’ve been dying to talk Pelicans, so let’s get into it. The New Orleans backcourt looks as messy and as talented as any in basketball. Eric Gordon returns from injuries and can be a big-time scorer, while Jrue Holiday was thought to be the new face of the 76’er franchise. He was an all-star last season, which makes this trade absurd. Austin Rivers, a 1st round pick from last season, can play either position for periods of time, although he’d love to just be a scorer, but that’s not going to get him on the floor. He needs to pick up things defensively if he wants to stay on the floor this year. A good pre-season has helped the chance of him playing more this season improve. He's had a great summer and has taken steps in the right direction.
Tyreke Evans comes in from Sacramento and can play any of the guard spots or the 3, where he’ll probably end up getting the most time. Evans improves this team 100% with his versatility and scoring ability, plus he’ll make the Pelicans a fun team to watch run. Anthony Morrow has also been known to score points in bunches at the 2 or 3.
Anthony Davis comes back this season and heads a pretty big front court. While Davis isn’t a huge scoring machine, he has the tools to become a complete player someday, while his defensive skills are already better than any of his teammates. Speaking of defense, don’t say that word to loudly around Ryan Anderson. Anderson is a big time shooter and another scorer, providing another option most teams don’t have. The Pelicans still have Jason Smith and Al-Farouq Aminu as very talented options. The sky is the limit for Aminu, who’s still developing his game. New Orleans also drafted Jeff Whitey out of Kansas, who could give them some minutes down in the post.
Holiday - pg Evans - sf Davis - c
Gordon - sg Anderson - pf 6th - Aminu
Head Coach - Brian Shaw
The Denver Nuggets had an incredible 2013 season. Everything seemed to go right, well except the play-offs. There was no one superstar that stood out, it was a complete team effort, and made for some of the most exciting basketball in recent history. They had the 2nd longest winning streak in the NBA and didn’t have a LeBron or a DWade on their roster. Head coach George Karl could do no wrong. That was then. This is now, and now features a new head coach (Brian Shaw) and a lost to free agency All-Star shooting guard (Andre Iquodala).
So the big reason the Nuggets are so successful is because of how big they are. JaVale McGee is an athlete freak, despite his weekly Shaqtin’ A Fool appearances. McGee can jump out of the gym, block shots into the crowd, and dunks like a madman. That’s it. That’s his job. He doesn’t really have a great low post game, which is why playing him at the 5 doesn’t benefit you much unless its run and gun, which is the Nuggets game. Denver decided to use Kenneth Faried at the 5, a smaller version of 1992 Shaq. At 11 points, 10 rebounds a game, Faried was a dunking machine. He grabbed rebounds like old school Dennis Rodman, and played with an energy and intensity many opponents just weren’t ready for. JJ Hickson comes into Denver, capable of playing the 4 or 5, making the Nuggets even more of a solid dunking, shot-blocking machine. Danilo Gallinari missed the end of the season with an injury, however he was the team’s 2nd leading scorer. At 6’10 he’s always a match-up problem, plus he’s probably the team’s best shooter. Add Darrell Arthur to the mix and you have one big, tough front line.
Make no mistake Ty Lawson makes this team go. As the team’s leading scorer, Lawson is one of the league’s fastest point guards, and on a team that loves to run that’s a huge bonus. He’s developed a solid three point game, and showed tremendous leadership during the play-offs.
Plus it helps to have veteran leader Andre Miller backing you up, giving the Nuggets arguably the best pg tandem in basketball. Questions arise in who will play the 2, as current Nuggets options are all solid bench players. Wilson Chandler can do it, however he came off the bench last season. The Nuggets would love for Evan Fournier to finally develop, as he’s shown tremendous skill, plus adding the versatile vet Randy Foye helps them tremendously with their 3 point %. But for now the job lies with Chandler. Is he capable, can he play unselfish enough to not take the ball out of Lawson and Gallinari’s hands? The Nuggets also signed Nate Robinson, who had a tremendous year off the bench playing the role of DRose for last year’s Bulls team. Robinson is not a starter, however, and gives you much more of a boost off the bench.
Lawson - pg Gallinari - sf McGee - c
Chandler - sg Faried - pf 6th - Hickson/Robinson
Head Coach - Jeff Hornacek
The Suns are in trouble. Gone are the days of Thunder Dan, KJ, or Tom Chambers. There’s no Larry Nance nor Charles Barkley leading the post game. Infact, there’s not much of anything really. And that’s the question that needs to be answered early on for the Suns. Who will take the lead and be the Suns go to guy? They are hoping it’s Eric Bledsoe. Brought over off the bench from the Clippers, the suns ae counting on Bledsoe’s display of talent when filling in for Chris Paul to help lead them back in the righ direction. Bledsoe showed signs of superstardom in limited minutes, and the word of mouth about his game has been off the charts. How that plays out for an 82 game season we’ll have to see. Expect Bledsoe to be matched up with steady point guard Goran Dragic. Dragic was the only truly consistent thing about the Suns last season, and will be counted on to do the same. Trying to keep up with the Suns guards will be interesting, as they have some of the more versatile players in the NBA in PJ Tucker and Gerald Green. Who steps up and gets playing time will be a season-long experiment.
Even more questions arise in the front court. Emeke Okufor is a solid center. His defense is incredible when he’s healthy, and he loves to rebound. But the Suns drafted Alex Len, who by all accounts, is the more talented product. But his time will come. Channing Frye has returned from some heart issues that had him miss last season entirely. Playing these two together could be interesting as Frye is a great 3 point shooter, while Gorat is big enough to command a double-team. The Morris twins are finally together again, which hopefully means they’ll get production from both instead of just one. The Morris boys can play the 3 or 4 and played well together in college.
A reunion may be just what the doctor ordered. Miles Plumlee is still developing but is a great center for the Suns style of bball. PJ Tucker’s energy and hustle could have him playing a lot of minutes at the 3 and 4, as he helps tremendously on defense as well.
Dragic - pg Green - sf Okufor - c
Bledsoe - sg Mar. Morris - pf 6th - Frye
Head Coach - Dave Joerger
You really have to convince me this team got better somehow. With no major additions, a new coach, and nothing to show from the draft, how does this team keep up with the elite in the Qwest? Admittedly your frontcourt is bad, bad news. Defensive player of the year Marc Gasol along with Zach Randolph…yeah that’s a problem. Add long-armed shooter Tayshaun price and you’ve got yourself the best defensive threesome in basketball down low. Kosta Koufas was the starting center for most of the year in Denver, and playing him at the 5 could move Gasol to the 4 on occasion, a very scary thought. Koufas had a very good year in Denver, and should only improve playing with Gasol. Look for Jon Leuer to play a much similar role to last’s year. He’s a big body who seems to be getting better the more he plays. Ed Davis could be key if he fulfills his potential. Davis could be just what the team is looking for to fill in spots next season.
Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless are back, along with Tony Allen. The Grizzlies got a drop dead shooter in Mike Miller, stealing him away from the Heat. Quincy Pondexter also returns, making their outside shooting game much improved from last year. Whatever the Grizzlies get from rookies Franklin and Calathes will be a bonus. Defensively this team should be very good, but offensively they could look as ugly as a pig in make-up.
Conley - pg Prince - sf Gasol - c
Allen - sg Randolph - pf 6th - Koufos/Bayless
Head Coach - Tyrone Corbin
This is what a youth movement looks like, people. The Jazz will be in the draft next year, hopefully with a high pick, maybe a franchise-changer. If you are a Jazz fan appreciate the growth in your team this year, watch as players get better, and that once in a while surprise big win they get every other week or so.
Gordon Haywood will be relied on for scoring. He’s the team leader, lines up at the 3, but can play the 2 if Corbin decides to get big and play Marvin Williams at the 3 instead. Williams started a lot at the 3, and with no proven shooting guard this is a logical option with the game on the line.
Trey Burks was brought in to be the new point guard of the franchise. Burke is a proven winner with unlimited talent. There is no solid back-up for Trey, as John Lucas III shoots more than he’ll ever pass the ball, so it’s all on Trey. Brandon Rush was the NBA’s best 3 point shooter at one point, and with some actual minutes under his belt who knows what he can do. This opening will also let Alec Burks finally get some minutes.
He’s shown potential in the past and finally his time could be here. The Jazz also added Richard Jefferson to the roster, who could play either the 2 or 3. If Jefferson claims the 2 job that would greatly benefit the Jazz.
The Jazz need something from Derrick Favors. He’s been given enough time to hide behind Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap, but those days are over. If he falls short Jeremy Evans has also been looking for his moment in the sun. The same goes for Enis Kanter. Kanter has shown great potential, and finally being a starter could bring in the big numbers most people are expecting. Andris Biedrins comes in to back up the center position. Not the best post up center, nor is defense his thing, but he can run.
The Jazz are in the hunt for a point guard while Burks recovers from surgery. Not a good way to start the season.
Burke - pg Haywood - sf Kanter - C
Jefferson - sg Favors - pf 6th - M. Williams
Los Angeles Lakers
Head Coach - Mike D’Antoni
Believe in the Lakers. Ok, well, you can only believe for so long, but it’s hard to imagine a Kobe Bryant team falling on such hard times. It all started with Dwight Howard, who clearly was a cancer to the LA system. He destroyed chemistry and left a distasteful residue with the organization they are still recovering from. Call it good/bad timing with Kobe returning from injury. Sure he’s coming back, however a determined and motivated Kobe is the deadliest mamba of all.
The Lakers need a trade. They need a power forward like Miley Cirus needs an STD test. As of now they are playing Jordan Hill next to Pau in the starting line-up, which is fine, but matched up against high quality power forwards in the league, not a good match-up. Think of Hill as a poor man’s poorer Horace Grant without a jump shot. He can rebound, you don’t need to run any plays for him, and he’ll clean up garbage around the rim, but he can only play for so long. Gasol will be the starting center, with Chris Kaman coming off the bench. This is great news, if both weren’t injury prone and old. However it plays well if healthy near play-off season. It would be nice if rookie Ryan Kelly developed into anything during the season as he has a tremendous versatile game that could help, however he’s still recovering from foot surgery and hasn’t even put on a shoe during training camp. When he’ll be available is anyone’s guess. Once again, this team needs another big man!!!
What the Lakers lack in size they make up for everywhere else. Steve Nash is hungry to prove he’s not done. He’s motivated to have a “Nash-type” year, which at one point meant holding up an MVP trophy. The Lakers will limit wear and tear on Nash by having both Steve Blake and the re-discovered Jordan Farmer on the roster.
Farmer did a remarkable job backing up Deron Williams last season and could be just what the doctor ordered. Still in his 20’s and a good shooter, Farmer is very familiar with how the Lakers run. He’s bff with Nick Young, who is comes back home to LA as the starting 3. Young is hungry, aggressive, and extremely talented, probably one of the best running mates Kobe has ever played with.
Young can be a big-time scorer, and will take some of the pressure off of his teammates as he has no problems shooting. Jodie Meeks also returns, a streak scorer who plays well with Kobe.
It will be very curious to see what if/if anything the Lakers get out of Robert Scare and Elias Harris. Anything at all they can give you at the 4 would be great. They same goes for Wesley Johnson. Johnson has not lived up to any of the hype he got before he was drafted, and has under-achieved in two NBA stops so far in his short career. He still can score and has a ton of potential, unfortunately he’s already banged up early in pe-season. Xavier Henry has yet to develop, yet he could be the key to a good season. He was sitting on the end of the pre-season bench un-noticed when he broke out in game 1 for 29 points, and has maintained a good scoring average since coming off the bench.
Nash - pg Young - sf Kaman- c
Bryant - sg Gasol - pf 6th - Henry/Hill
Head Coach - Rick Adleman
If you’re a fan of the NBA then you love watching the Wolves play ball. They are a quick, in your face, big shot-taking, fight for every rebound, awesome passing team. This team is based on which Kevin Love comes to the arena. An injury-plagued 2013, if he plays anything like he did in 2012 then the Wolves are going to the play-offs. Love can score inside and out, and no one can rebound with him down low when motivated. Put him next to surging center Nikola Pekovic and you may have the league’s best center/power forward combo. Pekovic continues to get better and stronger, while butting up impressive numbers each season. The problem comes in the back-ups. Besides Ronny Turiaf, there is no other true big. If Robbie Himmell makes the team he’s only 6’8 and coming off 2 knee injuries. Chase Budinger is the next biggest at 6’9, but he plays the 3. Derrick Williams has the same issues at Budinger (except Budinger always seems to be injured, just like he is at this moment), which is good if you wanna play an inside outside game with another big man, but that doesn’t happen too often. This also brings into question, who’s starting at the 3??
Corey Brewer is a long-armed defender with solid skills, but not starter skills. But he’s a great defensive short minutes starter. Shabazz Muhammad is on the roster. He could get some time as he’s an amazing talent, or he could sit the bench because he’s such a headcase. If he gets his head on straight he’s got way too much talent not to find somewhere to play on the floor. They Wolves also brought in Kmart from Oklahoma City. Martin is a solid shooting guard and a tremendous upgrade at the guard position.
The fun comes with the point guards. We all know Ricky Rubio is a human highlight reel. How far his ceiling goes is up to him, but right now he’s a steady great passing point guard, and should be 100 percent after last season. JJ Barea comes back as the fiesty back-up known for making tough lay-ups and getting up in opponents faces.
Gritty, tough….just what this team needs. Also what the team needs is solid back up guard Alexev Shved. Shved is a tough guard who provides scoring off the bench, capable of playing either spot. Dante Cunningham also is on the roster
Rubio - pg D. Williams - sf Pekovic - c
Martin - sg Love - pf 6th - Budinger
Head Coach - Terry Stotts
Rip City is filled with potential. There’s so much untapped talent and youth….you can literally see the “what if” signs above the arena. Lets start in the backcourt and work our way up, shall we?
Damian Lillard was easily the best rookie the NBA had last year. Can he carry a franchise? Probably not, but he’s a great lead option on a team filled with great options. Having Mo Williams as a back-up is a brilliant move for a young team needing veteran leadership. The same goes at shooting guard. Wesley Matthews is a veteran guard who plays well with Lillard. He’s a good defender and can score, however the Blazers are hoping 2013 draft pick CJ McCullom will be the future at the 2. He’s super athletic and a good scorer, yet he’s still young, and currently rehabbing a broken foot. Matthews is a great bridge til he’s ready.
Nic Batum returns at small forward, and he’s a solid player who’s game needs to elevate if the Blazers want to do anything in the West. Dorell Wright was signed in the off-season, an athletically-gifted 6’9 forward who can run, dunk, and shoot the 3 very well. The Blazers were desperately in need of a real center, and while Myles Leonard is a quality scoring center with a bright future, defensively he’s nowhere near what the team needs. This changes with Robin Lopez coming to town. Williams put up 11ppg/9rpg as a starter in new Orleans last season, and should clog up the post instantly.
This could be the year Thomas Robinson breaks out. After a very weird, well-traveled rookie season, Robinson is motivated to make teams start taking notice of what they missed. He makes for a great back-up to LaMarcus Aldridge, who if healthy, is an elite power forward. Aldridge finally gets the defensive help he needs along with a bench that can take a lot of the load off of him late in games. Rip City gets deeper and defensively better, along with bigger…..man, what if???
Lillard - pg Batum - sf Lopez - c
Matthews - sg Aldridge - pf 6th - M. Williams
Head Coach - Rick Carlisle
Oh boy, this is not what rebuilding looks like. It’s more like a team trying it’s hardest to hold on to some sort of hope that they are just a couple of pieces away, and the mavs are not a couple of pieces away. You can keep trying to patch up holes with boxes, but the pieces just wont fit very well. What does that mean? Well read along…
There’s no part of Dirk Norwitzki that should be in the post banging for rebounds, unless he wants to, and trust me, he doesn’t. Dirk would much rather be one of those old small forward dudes, barely playing defense, running…ok, jogging down court hitting screens to get open to shoot because he has the all clear shoot whenever sign. Unfortunately the Mavs already have a bench full of those guys, and their power forwards are all under-sized, well at least compared to Dirk.
Playing at center are Samuel Dalembert, Bernard James, and Fab Melo. Dalembert is durable center. He’s not going to blow you away at any point, but he will fill clog up that post, grab some rebounds, foul hard, and change some shots. Bernard James also does the same thing to a lesser degree. He’s still learning the game and isn’t as talented as Dalembert, but there’s potential there. Fab Melo is…well, until prove otherwise about a season away from the And 1 circuit.The Mavs also have Brandan Wright, who should be the starting 4 but can play a lot of the 5. You will see Wright on the floor during some of their better line-ups.
So the Mavs signed DeJuan Blair away from the Spurs. Blair works hard. He’s a big body who shoots a high percentage and hustles like a mofo for rebounds. But he’s a bench player. Same goes for Jae Crowder, who plays more 3 than 4. Also undersized and not starter material. Remember those guys I mentioned already playing Dirk’s spot? Well one of them is Shawn Marion. Shawn will probably get the starting nod only because he plays better defense that our 6th man, Vince Carter. Neither guy are the same player they were a decade ago…hell, they aren’t even the same players they were 2 years ago. But there’s still talent in both. VC can play 2 or 3, while Shawn can play more 3 or 4.
The point guard situation got a solid answer fima;y with the arrival of Jose Calderon. Jose is like a poor man’s Steve Nash, which is perfect for a team like Dallas. Picking up Devin Harris was also a huge move, as Devin is a solid guard, who can play either position in a pinch. He’s starter worthy, but having him as an option on the bench is a tremendous plus. Unless this season goes straight to hell you will not see Shane Larkin. Who you might see a bit of is Gal Mekel, the Israeli league MVP. Mekel may stick just because of his shooting ability alone.
While the biggest signing in my opinion may be Calderon, its hard to argue that Monta Ellis isn’t the best signing of the summer. Ellis is a big time shooter who can handle the ball well. His addition takes a ton of scoring pressure off Dirk, and easily makes the mavs one of the better backcourts in the league. Wayne Ellington is a solid back-up guard who will get minutes on hard work alone.
It’s hard to tell just which may the season may fall with this team. If healthy and shots fall they have enough talent to make the play-offs and even possibly get out of round one. But that’s if every ball falls right.
Calderon - pg Carter - sf Wright - c
Ellis - sg Norwitzki - pf 6th - Marion/Harris
Golden State Warriors
Head Coach - Mark Jackson
Steph Curry spent the end of the 2013 season and the play-offs showing the league why he could be one of the league’s best guards in the next few years. Dropping 50 in the garden, an incredible play-off run, you couldn’t stop Curry. Look for more of that to be on display this season. This season Steph has a true backcourt running mate in Andre Iguodola, who wil be counted on by Mark Jackson for more of he defense than offense. Iggy loves to run and can score, but he’s so athletic and easily one of the team’s best defensive players. Currently Tony Douglas is the back-up pg, he’s ok…he can shoot the 3, likes to run, but is he a starter if Curry goes down? No.
Klay Thompson is the league’s best shooter, outside of Curry. Thompson could start at guard too, but he’s built for the 3. Thompson is ready to put up big numbers, as he’s in the perfect system to just let it ride every night. Now here’s where things get complicated….Harrison Barnes comes off the bench to play the 3 or the 4. The Warriors are small, always will be small, but for a team that runs and shoots the ball so well a back-up like barnes isn’t so bad. Then again, last year’s back-up in the post was Carl Landry, and Mark Jackson would kill for another Carl Landry.
All-star David Lee is back and healthy, same goes for center Andrew Bogut. Lee will feast in an offense like this because he’s not asked to do much but rebound. Everything else you get from him is extra, and luckily for GSW he has a little jumper, can run very well, and can score a bit. Bogut is better than advertised. Before he got that major arm injury Bogut was one of the top centers in the East. Even an average Bogut playing for the Warriors is better than 75% of most centers in the West. Jermaine O’Neil was brought in to back-up Bogut, a very high quality back-up if he’s healthy.
Filling out the rest of the roster are Draymont Green and Kent Bazemore , both versatile, not game-breakers, but their contributions throughout the season can’t be measured. Mareese Sprieghts was brought in for more beef in the post. GSW aren’t as deep as they were last season, so they need to be healthy if they want to do anything this season. And if they are healthy by play-off time the deadliest thing you want to see is a team that can shoot like the Warriors.
Curry - pg Thompson - sf Bogut - c
Iggy - sg Lee - pf 6th - Barnes
San Antonio Spurs
Head Coach - Greg Popovich
It’s ok to say it now, one bad coaching decision lost the Spurs, the best team in the NBA last season, the NBA championship. It’s ok, the team is back mostly a full strength here to try it again. Last season Tony Parker was just untouchable.. He was the league’s best point guard by far. Cory Joseph and Patty Mills are respectable back-ups as a pair, mostly because the Spurs play great team ball. Ginobilli is back as the 6th man, and is a good ball handler, which takes pressure off the back-ups if parker does go down. And if Ginobilli misses any significant time again no worries the Spurs signed Marco Belinelli. No systems fits belineli better than the Spurs. After a strong season Danny Green proved in the play-offs that he is a guard that needs attention. He could start at the 2 or the 3.
Kawhi Leonard is the teams most athletic player, not to mention their best defensive player. His ceiling is high and you can’t hide him on the bench anymore. Unfortunately he’s not big enough to play 4, which would really help, but hey, what team doesn’t need a great 3 man. Sam Young is a great average player to have on your team. Nothing spectacular, just a good player. Same goes for forward/center ff Ayers. Corey Magettee has been making a great impression in pre-season. He gets to the free throw line a lot, which Pop loves. Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw are also back this season to take turns playing both post spots.
Thiago Splitter made huge strides last year, finally getting a ton of minutes starting. He’s a good steady center who works hard. As for the franchise, well Timmy had a rebirth last season. Pop knew just when to rest him, keep him healthy and rested, and Timmy came through with a remarkable season. They’ll need more of that this year to repeat their run at the top of the West. The Spurs did prove that when healthy and at their top game they could beat anyone, including Miami. Maybe just a few smal adjustments will get them back to the top.
Parker - pg Leonard - sf Splitter - c
Green - sg Duncan - pf 6th - Ginobilli
Head Coach - Kevin McHale
Let’s just get into it: The Rockets have the most interesting guards in the league. I think people were expecting “Linsanity” to take over last season, and instead should be happy with an average point guard who needs to dish more than try and take over. If Lin understands his role, and it sounds like he just might now that harden and Howard are around, then he can be a very dangerous option. He penetrates well and can hit big shots. But put pressure on his shoulders and he’s a turnover/defensive liability problem. Patrick Beverly comes in not afraid of anything. He’s got nothing to lose and plays very hard, which is why he gets so much time. The fact that Aaron brooks just sits on the bench as just an option is scary. Brooks is a very good player, and a great person to have if one of your guards goes down. Now you’ll match any of these guys up with James Harden, who is fighting his way to the top of the NBA’s to shooting guards list.
Harden is trying to show he’s one of the NBA’s elite, and winning this season would help plead his case.
Chandler Parsons is the man behind “whats causin’ all this“. Chandler openly recruited Howard to come to Houston, and his game has taken off each season he’s been in the league. After a great play-off run, Parsons has even more confidence in his game and is starting to play like it. Reggie Williams, Francisco Garcia, and Ronnie Brewer are versatile back-ups that can all play the 2 and 3. Each brings something different to the table - Brewer is best defensively, Williams can shoot and get to the rim the best, while Garcia handles the ball better and has a great outside shot.
The question has been who will be the starting power forward? Terrance Jones is spending the pre-season proving his case the hardest, as he’s worked so hard this off-season and put up good numbers so far. Greg Smith was steady last season, but nothing overly impressive. He did his job, and he’ll contribute in many ways. Omir Casspi needs a bounce-back season. He’s a good shooter, but seems to get lost when it comes to post play and rebounding. Marcus Camby is injured again, but he’s more or less another coach anyways.
Omer Asik had good numbers last season as the starter. He monitored the post and pushed and shoved anyone or anything that moved out of the post. He’s generally upset because he thought the starting center spot was his and he played hard to keep it. And then Dwight Howard arrives to town. Plans change. Donatas Motiejunas shouldn’t be ruled out of the race to be power forward. Danatas has respectful numbers last season, however his taken off this off-season. He was the MVP of the Las Vegas summer league and playing like a giant dragon on an island filled with smurfs. If he doesn’t start he’s a great option to back-up the 4 or 5.
As for Dwight, well I never believed in Superman, and after what hes done in Orlando and now LA, I doubt I ever will. Now that he’s finally got his wish its definitely put up or shut up time for Mr. Howard.
Lin - pg Chandler - sf Howard - c
Harden - sg Ross - pf 6th - Beverly/Asik
Oklahoma City Thunder
Head coach - Scotty Brooks
Things have changed a bit for the Thunder. Gone are the high-scoring shooting guards of the past. Around for this ride are a bunch of “what if’s“, “let’s hope“, and ’he needs to step up”… The Thunder are hoping to get a much better season out of perry jones, as well as Hasheem Thabeet. They also brought in big steven Adams, officially making them the tallest bench in the world. With Russell Westbrook still on the sidelines for a while, the Thunder need reggie Jackson to keep playing at a high level until he returns. Derek fisher can also run the ship until Westbrook returns, but if they want to contend in the play-offs they’ll need a healthy RW, nothing less.
Thabo will stick as the starting shooting guard. He fits this team like a glove, and defensively he’s the best guard on the team. And now we get to Jeremy lamb, who a lot of weight falls on this year. He had a great summer league, and will be given the time to show what he’s got. Ryan Gomes was brought back from God knows where. He can play the 3 or 4 as he’s big enough, while still having quality skills. He’s a good bench player to have as he will produce for you somehow. He’s much like Nick Collison, who plays the 4 or 5 off the bench. Solid defender, solid player, can start in the post in a pinch.
Do you really need to talk about KD? I mean, he’s KD. He needs to carry this team, ala 1990’s Jordan and stop deferring to other players.
Kendrick Perkins did a lot of looking in the mirror lately and accepted that he needs to step his game up and get right. Still a solid center, the Thunder need more from him than some of the awful numbers he put up in the play-offs. There’s also the expectation that serge Ibaka is ready to step up as the 3rd or 4thscoring threat on the team. Serge could elevate his game and his team by becoming more of threat with the ball, something he’s been working on. Expect Ibaka to pick up some of the slack while Russ is gone.
Westbrook - pg Durant - sf Perkins - c
Sefolosha - sg Ibaka - pf 6th - Lamb
Los Angeles Clippers
Head Coach - Doc Rivers
Let’s take this position by position: Chris Paul is the man that’s not secret. He’s the 2nd best point guard overall in the league and has been given the weapons to really show off his skills. LA native Darren Collison has come home to be the back-up. Darren needs to sit back and learn how to lead, and he’s with two great leaders in Rivers and Paul.
JJ Reddick just got injured. That’s fine, he’ll be back soon. JJ is one of the league’s best shooter, and if you haven’t noticed, being wanted by the best team in the West has given JJ a ton of swagger. He’s walking around these days like 2Chainz. Willie Green will take a lesser role now that the team has added a shooter like JJ, but he’s still a capable defender and scorer. Reggie Bullock got drafted out of UNC and has some serious game. He’s a long-armed defender which Doc loves, not to mention he gets to the free throw line and he can shoot. Unfortunately for him there’s JJ and Jamal Crawford in front of him. Many felt like Crawford had a all-star worthy 1st half, and as the league’s undisputed best 6th man, he gives the Clippers crazy firepower.
Jared Dudley has a stranglehold on the 3 spot. Dudley’s game keeps getting better, and so does his jumper. He’s become a good shooter, along with his athletism, and that’s something the Clippers lacked last season. You will also see a lot of matt Barnes. Rivers loves what he brings defensively, and he’s still moving very well.
Blake Griffin needs to come out and play up to the superstar billing he’s gotten in the past. He needs to develop more offensively, become more of a weapon, cause a double-team, taking pressure off Paul and opening things up more for the shooters. This team will only go as far as Griffin develops. Antwain Jamison comes into the perfect situation. This offense is made for him, and as the back-up for Blake expect Jamison to get enough time to stay healthy, but enough minutes to be productive. Lou Amundsen is a good post to take up space on the bench. He works hard, that’s all we can ask.
Ryam Hollins and BJ Mullins are bought 7-foot long-armed whackers. They will hit you if you come into the post. They will make their lay-ups and put-backs, look to block shots, and foul the crap out of you. They are the less-developed product that was DeAndre Jordan, solid back-ups but not long-term starters. Jordan however, keeps getting better. He’s with a coach that will push him to get better, not to mention he’s determined to become something more than a big dunking shot blocker.
Doc rivers is the kind of coach who gets the best out of his players mentally and on the court. Let’s see if guys like Griffin, Jordan, and Paul all take heed. The Clippers have enough talent to make it to the finals, but are they mentally ready for it?
Paul - pg Dudley - sf Jordan - c
Reddick - sg Griffin - pg 6th - Crawford
And the D. Rose era part II officially starts NOW.
With the opening of media day for the Bulls you quickly learn just from the tone of many of the players that they not only can't wait to start the season, but have a huge chip on their shoulder. Quickly overlooked as one of the best teams in the league, it wasn't that long ago that the Bulls not only had the NBA's best player, but also the best record in the NBA. Even though the lost Rose to a knee injury all of last year, the Bulls still sent two players to the 2013 All-Star game, while having one of the better records in the Eastern Conference. On any given night the Bulls proved they could beat anyone, and often times seemed just one player away from taking their place among the elite. This is where all the D. Rose hate comes from...but as proven by many other athletes who have rushed back too soon after an injury (hey fantasy football league owners, how's the RGIII pick working out for ya right now?) sometimes its better to be safe than sorry. When many critics or so-called experts speak of who the best teams in the league are right now the Bulls are generally not one of the first teams mentioned. And that my friends lies the motivation for potentially a very exciting season. That else did we learn from media day?
Derrick Rose looks like the bigger, stronger version of D. Rose. Maybe its from doing some insane work-outs in LA this summer, or scrimmaging with ninjas and dragons (don't ask) in China, or maybe its from hitting the weights every day for the past two years. Whatever the case Rose made sure he got much stronger to avoid all those nagging injuries he got getting hacked while driving strong to the basket in the past. Plus when you're a little insecure about your legs after an injury, well you wanna make sure they are strong, healthy, and bigger than ever. And by the looks of things it might take Shaq himself falling of Rose to cause injury. He looks so much stronger than in the past, which, combined with a much improved 3 point shot, and that stealth-like quickness, its bad news for the rest of the league.
"I'm going to play the same way," said Rose at the start of media day. "The only thing that has changed is probably my jump shot, that I can shoot a little further. But the biggest thing is my confidence level. I'm way more confident in my game and in my craft.
"I worked the whole year, trained my body a whole year, and going out there and showing people that I'm the same player, a more efficient player, that's what I'm trying to prove.''
Just who will be your starting 2??? here lies the question of the Captain and the Butler. D Rose feels so much more comfortable running with Captain Kirk Hinrich, mostly because Kirk took care of Rose his rookie season. He's un-selfish, loves to play defense, and provides a veteran comfort level that Rose can appreciate. He also can shoot the ball well, which also gives his teammates confidence in him. The problem comes in the emergence of Jimmy Butler. Generally a 3 who can play the 2 according to match-ups, Butler proved at the end of last season and in the play-offs that he's hungry and ready for more. You couldn't get him off the floor in the Miami series, and his defensive game took major strides toward All-Star worthy. Butler's game improved so much that Richard Hamilton and Nate Robinson both took a back seat to him in the play-offs, and became completely expendable this off-season whenButler showed he could knock down the corner 3 without hesitation. It's a matter of chemistry however, as Rose and Butler have never been paired together in a game so it's unsure just if they can work together. But with both's aggressive court nature it will be fun to watch and see what happens.. Oh btw, guess who Butler spent most of his summer in LA working out with?
Luo? Are you still with us? The Bulls announced that they will not be talking future contract until season ends with Luo Deng, the team's starting small forward and 2nd best player. This causes issues, many, many issues. First of all you don't need this type of media headache all season. The last thing Deng needs to be worried about is his contract all season. Plus, let's be honest, Deng is your 2nd best player and consistently best defensive player. Despite being banged up a lot the past two years, he rarely missed any games, and it took a damn spinal tap for him to miss those! For a team that doesn't offer many true scorers eliminating Deng from the equation so fast is not a good start, unless you plan on trading him.
How are the bigs? Playful, cranky, healthy, zen'ed out, skinnier....you decide which is which. The team is looking to take some of those heavy minutes off these guys by signing another big soon, besides center Narz Mohammad. Joakim Noah comes into camp healthier than ever, no longer dealing with the foot issues that have plagued him the past 3 seasons.
"I'm 100 percent healthy and I'm so excited for this year," Noah said. "We've got a lot of work to do, but I feel like this is our time."
The talk of the afternoon was the possible addition of 6'9 forward Indiana product D.J. White coming into training camp, while last year's free agent signee Malcolm Thomas and Dexter Pitman will also be fighting for a spot. Thomas had a good summer camp, but let's see if that translate over to the regular season. The Bulls will also bring former Duke star Dahntay Jones, Kalin Lucas, and Patrick Christopher. They will need to sign just one more player to make the league requirement.
Did we rebuild the bench mob? Not quite, however it could be consistently one of the better bench's the team has had. Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich/or Jimmy Butler will be the first faces you see off the bench, along with free agent signee Mike Dunleavy jr. Hinrich can play the 1 or 2 easily. Dunleavy is a big dude. Like 6'9 big, and you don't realize that until you see him. Being able to play the 2 and 3 , plus with his size I'm sure a little bit of 4, Dunleavy provides help for a struggling 3 point game. Last season he hit a career high 43% of his 3's. Nice! The Bulls were one of the league's worst 3 point shooting team last season, yikes. Mohammad comes back as your back-up for Noah, and anything the rest depends on the youngsters.
What youngsters? Are the rookies really going to play? Again, the Bulls were one of the league's worst 3 point shooting teams, so they made sure to find some aggressive players in the draft who can put the ball in the basket. Tony Snell is an aggressive 2/3 who can shoot very well. While much won't be made of him, look for the rookie from Florida Erik Murphy to be a huge surprise this season. Not only can he bang down low but has surprising shooting range the team loves. Murphy mad waves in summer league and could be a big boost down low. Speaking of summer league, point guard Marquis Teague needs to make his stand this season as well. Teague looked out of place last season, however a strong summer has given the coaches some optimism that he could spell Rose a lot more this season. But the Bulls aren't completely sold on that, which is why they are looking to bring in some guard competition from Roger Mason jr, Mike James, and Chris Wright.
We'll get our first glimpse at part II of the D. Rose era and the 2013 Bulls on Oct. 5th as they open up the exhibition season on the road against division rival Indiana.
The NBA opens up the 2013 free agency season July 1st and if the Bulls are hoping to challenge the repeating-defending NBA champion Miami Heat, upgrading their roster this summer will be a start. Last off-season the Bulls re-constructed the "bench mob", and didnt quite get the minutes or production they've gotten in past seasons. So this year, with a healthy Derrick Rose ready to start the season and a solid draft to tighten up the back end of the bench, the Bulls look to answer several key free agent questions going into the upcoming 2013-2014 season.
On the homefront, The Bulls have 8 returning players - Rose, Boozer, Noah, Gibson, Hinrich, Butler, Teague, and Deng. The Bulls made two solid draft picks in grabbing Tony Snell from New Mexico and Erik Murphy out of Florida. Snell is a very durable shooter with a 7-foot wingspan. Murphy is a 6'10 bruising big man who can also shoot very well, something the Bulls were desperate to add after the loss of Kyle Korver last season. They are quality upgrades on this depleted bench.
As far as their own free agents say goodbye to Daequan Cook and Vladimir Radmanovich. Both Cook could find a place on the end of the roster due to his hard work and loyalty, if he doesnt look for greener pastures elsewhere. The Bulls would do well to re-sign Mario Belinelli. "Hells Bellz" doesnt give you alot defensively, but his clutch shooting this season save the Bulls many times, not to mention he was consistantly the team's best 3 point shooter. A good guard to come off the bench or start in a pinch, answering this question involves also deciding what to do with Nate Robinson, as you can't have both anymore. And with both having tremendous seasons, they both may have played themselves into bigger contracts offering mnore years. The emergence of Jimmy Butler could spell the end for both. Also expect Nazr Mohammad to return to fiull the big man spot.
So who are the top free agents that make sense for this Bulls team?
1. Andre Iguodala/Nick Young - Let's start with Iggy. Not only is he an All-Defensive team and NBA All-Star player, but he was also a member of the 2012 Mens Basketball Olympic Team. "Iggy" is considered one of the top shooting guards in the league, matching his athletism with a strong defensive presence. It may cost more than what the Bulls can offer, however Iguodala is an Illinois kid, and may be willing to return home to play for a winner. ironically enough Young was brought to Philadelphia to take the place of Iguodla. Young is a 6'7 guard/forward who can score in bunches. He shoots the 3 very well, however isn't as defensively tough as Iggy. Still, Young is a quality starting guard who doesnt desire the ball as much as most scorers. Unless a miracle happen the Bulls probably can't affor these guys, however great they may fit.
2. Wesley Johnson/Xavier Henry - Both lottery picks, both can play the 2 or 3, and both on the market and desperate to prove their worth. The Bulls could take a flyer on either one, as both have a ton of potenial, both have a ton of athletism, and both can shoot the ball very well. Why not?
3. Mike Dunleavy jr./Chase Budinger - Budinger is a more athletic Kyle Korver, "White Men Can't Jump" in real time. A great leaper and great shooter, he's a huge bench upgrade for any team, especially the Bulls. He's young and and can play the post a bit, but more of a shooter. Remember he was in the dunk contest a few years ago. Dunleavy is a veteran with a ton of roots near by (Milwaukee). He's 6'9 and can play the 2 or 3. If you like Shane Battier (a close friend and college teammate of his) then you'll like Dunleavy, minus the Battier defense. He's a great shooter, and has consistently stayed at the .400 mark for 3 pointers. He's 33, and hasn't played over 80 games in a while, although he did reach 75 last year. He's the size of a 6'9 toothpick, however this versatile toothpick can shoot, drive and score, averaging over 10 points a game. Plus he's also a college teammate of Carlos Boozer.
4. Elton Brand/Jermaine O'Neil/Josh McRoberts - You can't keep throwing injured players out there, not for a long 82 game NBA season, and the Bulls missed size and minutes off the bench from the post position. Brand and O'Neil can give the Bulls exactly what they've been lacking, and don't require heavy minutes anymore. Both can play the 4 or the 5, filling out minutes with Gibson, Boozer, and Noah. McRoberts gives you a different look as he does have the capability to hit outside shots.
5. J. J. Redick - This almost happened. You need a 3rd guard, and while he plays defense like a dusty acoustic guitar, JJ can score. He's a tremendous shooter who can give you minutes at point if needed, and while many will say the Bulls already have a player like him in Hinrich, with the right guard beside him, and in the right system, Redick could be ready for a break-out season. He's also affordable.
In case you haven’t been watching, the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat don’t like each other very much. Chicago, still down Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Derrick Rose, is severely outgunned by the defending champion Heat, but they haven’t backed down. They play with what Bulls’ TV announcer Stacy King likes to call heart, hustle and muscle to win games, and it’s allowed them to be competitive when they shouldn’t, but it wasn’t enough to win on Friday night. The Bulls battled Miami all night, but Miami was able to hit shots down the stretch and pull away for a 104-94 victory and 2-1 series lead. LeBron James scored a game-high 25 points, but it wasn’t his best outing as he shot just 6-for-17. The real stars for the Heat were Chris Bosh who put up 20 and 19 rebounds, and Norris Cole who scored 18 points off the bench on 6-of-7 shooting. Carlos Boozer led the way for Chicago with 21 points, but every Bulls’ starter scored at least 15. “Tonight we didn’t play particularly well,” asserted Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, “and a lot of that had to do with Chicago, but in the 4th quarter we just found a way. Even if it wasn’t the prettiest way, just found a way to get this win.” Spoelstra was right that it wasn’t pretty. In fact, this one seemed like it was teetering on the brink of an all-out brawl.
There’s always been tension between the Heat and Bulls, going back to the Eastern Conference Finals 2 years ago, but it’s escalated to new heights in this series. During the regular season, the Bulls ended Miami’s franchise record 27-game winning streak, and league MVP LeBron James took exception to Chicago’s physical play, commenting that some of the fouls weren’t “basketball plays.” That physical play continued to frustrate King James and company in game 1 as the Bulls stole the series opener in Miami. In game 2, however, the Heat decided to get physical themselves. Udonis Haslem set the tone on the game’s first play, practically tackling Nate Robinson in mid-air as he drove in for a layup. Miami started to use the passion that the shorthanded Bulls have to play with against them, using cheap shots and hard fouls to bait the Bulls into technical fouls and ejections as the game spiraled out of control on the scoreboard. In total, by the end of game 2, there were 9 technical fouls (6 on Chicago), 1 flagrant foul (Chris Andersen), and 2 ejections (Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson) as the Heat dealt Chicago a franchise playoff worst 37-point loss. It was an embarrassing showing for the Bulls, and they vowed to keep their composure and deliver a better performance in game 3. That composure lasted for about 1 quarter.
In the closing seconds of the first frame, Chris “Birdman” Andersen took his time getting off of Nate Robinson after a hard foul by Andersen sent both to the floor, so Joakim Noah decided to help him out. Noah grabbed Birdman by the arm and threw him off of Robinson, and Andersen responded by attempting to kick Noah in the leg but whiffed. Both teams rushed in to separate the two, and Joakim was hit with a technical foul, but the bad blood didn’t end there. Early in the 2nd, an Andersen block started a fast break for Miami, and Bulls’ backup center Nazr Mohammed wrapped up LeBron in the open floor to prevent an easy bucket. LeBron didn’t like it and threw Nazr off of him. James was instantly T’d up by referee Joey Crawford, but before he could even react to it, he was shoved to the ground by Mohammed. The Bulls appeared to be unraveling again. Nazr was ejected, but after the dust settled, Chicago was finally able to get focused back in on the game.
For all of the theatrics, the actual game was riveting. The storylines practically write themselves. The depleted Bulls, missing 3 of their team leaders, continue to go toe-to-toe with the big bad Miami Heat and their 3 superstars. Even Hollywood would have a hard time crafting a better underdog story. The difference is, in Hollywood the underdog usually wins. For three and a half quarters Friday night, the Bulls answered every punch Miami threw at them, and they were within 2 points with 4 minutes to play. In those final minutes though, a couple of dicey calls and two clutch 3-pointers helped the Heat put Chicago away. Noah was whistled for a loose ball foul that looked extremely questionable on replay while going for an offensive rebound with the team down 5. Instead of a chance to cut the lead back to 2 or 3, the Heat opened it to 7 at the free throw line. The Bulls answered with a Belinelli 3, but moments later LeBron hit a ridiculous fade away 3 as the shot clock expired, and Norris Cole splashed in a 3 on the next possession, and that was all she wrote. The Bulls missed their last 3 shots and LeBron put the game away at the foul line.
Despite the very competitive game, all the talk afterwards was about the Nazr push and the officiating. “From my angle, I just saw a guy basically flop,” mentioned Coach Thibodeau about the push. “I don’t think it warranted an ejection. A flagrant foul, I understand that, but an ejection, no. I watch some of the plays with Haslem and Andersen, and I just don’t get it.” The coach said after game 2 that his team needed to show more composure, but when asked if he was upset with Nazr and Jo for their technicals in game 3, he didn’t give the response I’d expect: “No. I see how things are going. I watch very closely, and what I’m seeing….We’ll adjust accordingly.” For his comments, Thibs was fined $35,000 by the NBA, but he did take the focus off Nazr, who wasn’t suspended or fined for his push. Nazr did take the blame for his actions, but he agreed with his coach that he shouldn’t have been ejected: “I’m disappointed in myself because I let my teammates down, I could have been out there to help. Disappointed in myself also because my son was probably watching the game and I don’t want him to see that kind of behavior on the court, but I’m also disappointed that they went to the ejection for something like a push. I mean there’s so many plays that have happened already in this series, guys jumping on Nate’s face, guys tackle Marco Belinelli out of bounds, a guy takes out Nate on the 1st play of the game. There have been a lot of plays that didn’t get ejections, and a push shouldn’t get an ejection.” When pressed about how hard the push actually was, Mohammed was careful with his words. “You saw the play,” he responded. “You know the answer to that. You want me to say it.” He didn’t say it.
Miami’s conduct on the court wasn’t any better than Chicago’s, but since they won, it was much easier to take the high road off the court. Coach Spoelstra referred to the extracurricular activities as “inconsequential” to the game. “Out there (in the media), it will be more theater than it is reality,” commented Spoelstra. “Both teams are very competitive. It’s physical basketball, but no one wants to put on the gloves and turn it into anything else.” That may be the case, but from where I’m sitting, Miami’s goal seems to be to do just enough that the Bulls do want to put on the gloves and settle it like men and then act appalled by it. It’s worked pretty well for them in the last 2 games.
The Bulls have been walking a fine line in the first few games of this series. To be able to compete with Miami with such a short rotation, they have to play with great passion and energy. Unfortunately, playing that way makes them vulnerable to the emotional flare-ups that have resulted in technical fouls and ejections. The have to find a way to keep those emotions in check without losing that passion and competitive fire. Miami will continue to try and goad the Bulls into a fight, so Chicago needs to show how mentally tough they are to have a chance to stay in this series. With an 8-man rotation, ejections cannot happen, especially over things done by Haslem and Andersen, two guys who aren’t that critical to Miami’s chances.
If the Bulls are able to show a little bit more composure and focus down the stretch, they really have a chance to win game 4, and they need to. They did everything else in game 3 that you have to do to have a shot to beat Miami. They moved the ball exceptionally well all night, they limited their turnovers and Miami’s points off of them, they defended the paint well, and they frustrated LeBron into a bad shooting night, but down the stretch, they spent much of their energy arguing foul calls rather than finishing the game off strong. If they can correct that in game 4, there’s a chance for a happier ending. “We’re not worried about what the refs say or what they (the Heat) say,” asserted Nate Robinson. “We’ve just got to focus on playing Chicago basketball, which is hard, gritty and together. It’s (Game 4) a must-win for us, so we’ve got to continue to play. You can’t count us out because we’re going to continue to play hard, no matter what, and we’ll do whatever it takes to win.” The season hangs in the balance Monday night. Luol, Kirk and Derrick are probably not going to be on the court, so the underdog narrative remains as strong as ever. Hopefully game 4 provides the proper Hollywood ending that was missing on Friday.
Playing shorthanded is nothing new to the Chicago Bulls, they’ve been doing it all year. Injuries have been a bigger nemesis for Chicago than any opponent they’ve faced. Coach Tom Thibodeau has spent the better part of the last two seasons telling anyone who would listen that the Bulls have “more than enough to win with,” and often times his team has been able to prove him right. Unfortunately for the Bulls, Thursday night was not one of those times. Already missing Kirk Hinrich due to a calf injury, Thursday brought news that several other Bulls’ players were in jeopardy of missing game 6 due to illness. Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson were able to battle through the flu and play Thursday, but Luol Deng wasn’t as lucky. The All-Star small forward suffered from symptoms similar to meningitis and was unable to suit up and play. The Bulls who did take the floor battled tooth and nail to put the Nets away, but the absence of Kirk and Luol was just too much to overcome. Chicago played from behind all night. They kept within striking distance, but just couldn’t get over the hump as Brooklyn held on for a 95-92 win.
“It was kind of a bloodbath game, and fortunately we came out on top,” explained Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo. “If there’s a team in the league that plays harder than them, I don’t know who it is.” As hard as the Bulls played, it just wasn’t enough. Even with Kirk and Lu in the lineup, the Nets are more offensively talented than the Bulls. The games Chicago has been winning in this series aren’t being won by simply outscoring Brooklyn. They’re being won on the defensive end, and with grit and determination. Deng and Hinrich are crucial to that formula. “He (Deng) does so many things well at both ends of the floor,” commented Jimmy Butler. “He can just cover up for so many different people in a variety of ways, but more than anything, just his leadership role. He is missed.” Kirk’s impact is just as big. Hinrich has had the unenviable task of covering Deron Williams in the series, and actually did an admirable job of it in the games he played. He also keeps the offense running smoothly as the floor general. His absence was an obvious factor as Chicago struggled to communicate defensively and Brooklyn controlled the tempo in the early going.
On the Nets’ second possession, the Bulls starting backcourt of Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli collided with one another trying to defend a screen. The play resulted in a Gerald Wallace 3-pointer. Chicago’s offense got off to a fast start, but the defense failed to set the tone they needed to. Brooklyn shot 13-for-20 (65%) in the first quarter, and scored the final 6 points of the quarter to lead 33-27 after 1. Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez each scored 10 points. It was the guards’ inability to limit D-Will and Johnson’s penetration that led to the big quarter. Noah and Boozer often had to help off of their guys on the blocks to cover the driving guards, and it led to some easy buckets for the Nets. The second quarter wasn’t much better. The thin bench started to show when Rip Hamilton and Marquis Teague got on the floor. Hamilton was rusty on offense missing on his only 2 shot attempts as the Nets’ lead went from 1 to 8 in the 3 minutes he was on the floor. Teague wasn’t much better, failing to switch on a screen that allowed C.J. Watson a wide open very long 2, and was immediately sent back to the bench. The poor play of those two made it pretty obvious the starters were going to play a LOT of minutes. Before the end of the first half, the Nets had built the lead to as much as 10, but Marco Belinelli scored 4 points in the final 30 seconds of the half to trail by six at the break, 60-54. Deron Williams got his scoring going with 10 points in the 2nd quarter.
The Bulls took control of the tempo in the second half. They came out with renewed energy on defense, and got back to playing physical, grinding defense. They struggled to score, but they absolutely shut down the Nets. Brooklyn shot just 4-for-19 in the 3rd, but still managed to hold a 4-point lead into the final quarter. Chicago continued to fight and battle throughout the 4th, but it just didn’t seem like it was meant to be. One tough break after another went against them. Down 5 early in the quarter, the Bulls had a stretch where they had 7 shots to try and close in, including 4 in one possession, and they missed them all. After the 7th miss (4th in that one possession), they were able to get enough of the rebound to get a jump ball. After winning the jump ball, Belinelli rushed up a 3-pointer before the offense had a chance to get set up, and off the miss, the Nets were able to push the ball up the floor and get a wide open triple of their own by Gerald Wallace to open the lead back to 8. The Bulls wouldn’t go away though. They fought back to within 2 a couple times, and were down 4 with 3 minutes to play when Nate Robinson seemed to be on his way to a fast break basket when he slipped and fell down. The Nets were able to tie him up for a jump ball against Reggie Evans, a jump he wasn’t going to win.
The jump ball turned out to be another break that went against the Bulls. Nate decided to do something only Nate would do, and attempted to simply let Evans tip the Ball and run around him and try to catch it wherever he tipped it to. That’s not legal, and Nate should know that since he was called for the same violation in a regular season game against Toronto. The worst part about his mistake is that it appeared that Carlos Boozer would have come up with the ball if Nate hadn’t tried to get it himself. Instead the ball was given to the Nets. Brooklyn continued to miss free throws down the stretch to keep Chicago in it, but time and time again, the Bulls failed to get over the hump and tie the game or take the lead. The Bulls got a couple of chances in the waning seconds. They were inbounding the ball with around 10 seconds to go, down by 3, and they called a play that’s known in basketball circles as “closing the fence,” where a player runs between screens set by two teammates who then pinch together to block any defenders from getting through to challenge the shooter. Unfortunately, Gerald Wallace got a hold of Marco Belinelli around his waist as he tried to run between the screeners, and he pulled Wallace through with him. It should have been a foul and Beli should have been on the free throw line, but it wasn’t called and Wallace was able to contest the shot and Marco missed it long. Joakim Noah was able to chase down the rebound with 6 seconds left, but he couldn’t stay in bounds. The Bulls weren’t quite finished yet. Noah was able to tie up Deron Williams on the inbounds pass and get a jump ball call with 3.6 seconds left, still down 3, but the Nets came up with the ball on the jump, and escaped with the win.
The most telling stat for the Bulls on Thursday was that they shot 0-for-7 with a chance to tie or take the lead in the second half. Robinson missed a couple layups that could have tied it in the 4th, but it’s hard to blame him considering he was vomiting on the sideline during the game. “It wasn’t there,” lamented Noah. “It’s hard because I know how hard we fought just to get in that position. We just couldn’t get over the hump. You just think about so many plays in the game and wish you could have them back, but that’s what it’s all about.” Noah gave another gutsy effort on his ailing foot, putting up 14 points, 15 rebounds (9 off.), 5 assists and 5 blocks. Nate Robinson scored 18 and Jimmy Butler scored 17 along with 7 boards and 6 assists while playing all 48 minutes. He was the first Bull to play all 48 minutes of a playoff game since Luol in 2007 against the Pistons. Carlos Boozer put up his 4th double-double of the series with 14 points and 13 rebounds. The Bulls real surprise came from Marco Belinelli, who was filling in for Deng. Marco scored a game-high 22 points while tying a career high with 7 assists. He served as a ball handler for much of the first half and allowed Nate to play off the ball. “I thought he did a very good job,” commented Thibs. “He did a lot of good things out there. He ran the pick and roll, shot the ball well, made plays…but not enough.”
Brooklyn’s big 3 all tallied 17 points for the winning side, and Gerald Wallace did a nice job as well with 15, including a couple of clutch 3-pointers. Reggie Evans didn’t score much (2 pts.), but provided his usual strong effort on the glass with 15 boards. Deron Williams had 11 assists to go along with his 17 points, and Andray Blatche and C.J. Watson chipped in 10 and 9, respectively. The free throw line had a chance to be Brooklyn’s real undoing in this game, as they shot just 13-for-23 from the charity stripe in the second half.
With game 6 in the rear view mirror, both teams now turn their focus to do-or-die game 7 in Brooklyn. The Nets have all the momentum and confidence in the series, but the Bulls aren’t going down without a fight. Unfortunately, they are likely to be shorthanded again for game 7. Hinrich seems to be improving and might find a way to play Saturday, but it doesn’t look good for Deng. Luol said that he felt as weak as he ever has Thursday after having a spinal tap procedure performed on Wednesday, in which fluid was drawn from his brain and back. He could barely get out of bed on game day. His symptoms worsened on Friday and he ended up back in the ER, leaving his status highly doubtful for the final game of the series. Regardless of who plays, the Bulls know what they have to do to win Saturday. The defense can’t wait until the second half to assert itself. The Bulls have to make this game physical early. If they let Brooklyn start out offensively the way they did in game 6, they won’t be able to slow them down, not in Brooklyn. I doubt the Bulls will change up the rotation much if Kirk doesn’t play, but the guys out there simply have to play better. If they can make this a slugfest, there’s no reason they can’t beat the Nets. They have certainly shown over the first 6 games that they are the mentally tougher team, but that doesn’t guarantee victory.
“We need one great game, and that’s all we’re thinking about,” mentioned coach Thibs. “I know we are capable of doing well against them, so we’re going to have to play our best game and I believe we will.” The Bulls have handled adversity all season long, so why should the playoffs be any different? They always find a way to show up for the most important games, and I don’t doubt they’ll show up ready to go Saturday. Neither does Joakim Noah. “We’re a team of fighters,” Noah proclaimed. “We keep getting punched in the face but we fight back. I’m proud of this team. We’re going into a hostile environment in Brooklyn, and we’re going to win.” Isn’t that the kind of guy you want leading your team into a do-or-die game? Win or lose, Bulls fans should be proud of the effort this team has put forward this year, but it’ll be a hell of a lot better if they win.
Over the course of this NBA season, Bulls fans have become acquainted with two different players who wear #2 for their team, good Nate Robinson and bad Nate Robinson. Good Nate is instant firepower. He plays within the flow of the offense, gives a good effort on the defensive end, and gets the home crowd fired up with his energy and scoring. Bad Nate forces his shot, often early in the shot clock, turns the ball over with silly passes, and gets a little sloppy with his defense. Bulls’ fans know all too well that it isn’t rare to see both Nates make an appearance in the same game, heck even in the same quarter, but there was no split personality disorder from Nate on Saturday. In fact, Nate was more than just good, he was downright heroic in leading the Bulls back from what seemed like a sure defeat to take a stranglehold of the series.
The Nets led the game by 14 with 3 minutes to play when Nate and the Bulls’ defense took over. The defense started getting stops, and Nate went on a personal 12-0 run against Brooklyn to get the Bulls back in the game. He hit a 3, then a layup, then a midrange jumper and the lead was down to 7. Then he got fouled on a triple and hit all 3 free throws, and moments later he hit another midrange jumper to cap his run and get the lead all the way down to 2. He wasn’t quite done yet. He made another huge play by forcing a 5-second violation on the following inbounds play, then assisted on a Boozer layup to get the Bulls all the way back to a tie game at 109 with 55 seconds left. After a pair of Brook Lopez free throws, it was Joakim Noah putting back a Luol Deng miss with 24 ticks remaining to pull even again. The Nets had one final chance to win in regulation, but Jimmy Butler blocked Gerald Wallace’s shot to force OT.
“Nate Robinson brought us back,” mentioned Carlos Boozer afterwards, “We got a stop and we got the ball to Nate. We got a stop and we got the ball to Nate. He carried us. He was amazing.” What Robinson did in the 4th quarter bordered on historic. He scored 23 points in the quarter on 9-of-11 shooting. The franchise record for points in a quarter is 24, by the incomparable Michael Jordan. Despite Nate’s heroics in the 4th, the game had to continue, but the tide in the building had certainly turned.
In overtime, the teams traded buckets for most of the 5 minute period, but with just 2 seconds to go, it was Robinson again, knocking down a ridiculous, off-balance 23-foot bank shot that appeared to clinch the victory, but the Nets answered. Out of a timeout, Brooklyn was able to inbound to Joe Johnson and the Bulls allowed him to waltz into the lane for an 8-foot runner to force another overtime. The second extra session was painful to watch. Both sides were noticeably gassed, settling for jumpers and missing them short. Nate Robinson fouled out during the period for Chicago, as did Gerald Wallace for the Nets. It was going to be on the rest of the team to pull this one out after Nate had saved them. Chicago got up by 4 with under a minute and a half to go, but again couldn’t hold it and Brooklyn pulled even one more time. Joakim had a couple looks to try and win it in the closing seconds, but couldn’t convert. The game was headed to overtime number 3.
In the 3rd and final extra period, Chicago finally took charge. Noah and Gibson fouled out, but the Bulls scored 6 of the first 7 points, and never let Brooklyn get it closer than 3 after that. Old man Nazr Mohammed, who was forced back into the action when Gibson fouled out, made two crucial buckets to seal the win, including a put-back off a Boozer missed free throw with just 20 seconds left in a 4-point game. The bucket put them up 6, and that was finally enough to end this game.
When the actual ‘final’ buzzer of the day sounded, the Bulls had pulled off a 142-134 victory to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Robinson ended with a game-high 34 points (29 after the start of the 4th), and left the United Center crowd with the feeling they had just seen something really special. “It was big shot after big shot,” effused Coach Thibodeau. “But that’s what he does. That’s what makes him so valuable. It doesn’t take him much to get going, and once he does he can have a great run.” The biggest key for Robinson is just how incredibly confident he is. “I always think I’m on fire,” asserted Nate. “It’s like in the old-school game ‘NBA Jam,’ when you make a couple the rim’s on fire, when you shoot the ball’s on fire. I feel like that all the time. You kind of have to lie to yourself, feel like you can’t miss. If you do that, things turn.” It was that attitude that turned this game for Chicago, and maybe won them this series, and it almost didn’t happen.
The Nets had an opportunity to put the game away down the stretch when they were up 14. With 3:20 to go in the game, Nate coughed up the ball in the midst of a 7-0 Brooklyn run. It was passed ahead to C.J. Watson, who was by himself. No Bulls hustled back. It almost looked like it was going to be a ‘throw in the towel’ moment. Lucky for the Bulls, Watson went up for a dunk instead of the conventional layup, and the ball rattled around and popped out. By the time Watson realized it and secured the rebound, Jimmy Butler was back to prevent an easy bucket. The possession ended with a foul, but Reggie Evans missed both free throws, and the Nate show started. Nets’ coach P.J. Carlesimo lamented about just how big that miscue was: “I don’t think it would be possible to overstate it. They turned the ball over and we got a breakaway to get it to 16. I mean there was nobody even in the picture. That’s not good judgment on our part.” Unfortunately for Brooklyn and C.J. Watson, the game unfolded the way it did and they return home needing a win.
Nate Robinson had the breathtaking performance of the day, but every Bull that saw the floor made an impact. Before Nate’s explosion, Kirk Hinrich was actually leading the team in scoring with 18 points (he finished with 18), and he tacked on 14 assists and 3 steals while playing 60 of the game’s 63 minutes. Even more impressive, he played the game’s final 20:37 with 5 fouls and guarded the Nets’ best player, Deron Williams, all game. “Don’t underestimate the game Kirk Hinrich played tonight,” mentioned Boozer. “He scored the ball for us when he had to, he got everyone involved when he had to and played amazing defense.” Coach Thibodeau called Kirk’s game “unbelievable.” Unfortunately, it took a toll on him, and he will miss game 5 with a bruised thigh. As for the rest of the Bulls, Carlos Boozer scored 21 and grabbed 8 rebounds, while Deng added 15 and 8 along with 6 assists. Jimmy Butler had a nice shooting game (6-of-8) and scored 16 points, while Taj and Nazr chipped in 10 and 9 points off the bench, respectively.
The gutsiest performance of the day undoubtedly came from Joakim Noah. Noah’s been battling a foot injury, and was supposed to be limited to 20-25 minutes in this contest. He wound up playing 39 before fouling out with 15 points, 13 rebounds and 4 blocks. “He has a great heart, and again he is sort of mucking through it,” explained Thibs. “He keeps going after every ball. He has an uncanny knack for getting to the ball late (in games), so it was a big time effort by him. He’s doing it on will.” Hopefully Noah’s extended minutes don’t cause any setbacks with his injury going forward, but I highly doubt Jo would have let Thibs take him out of this game.
For Brooklyn, the offense revolved around their big 3 as usual. Deron Williams led the Nets with 32 points and 10 assists, but also had a game-high 7 turnovers. Brook Lopez scored 26, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked 4 shots, and Joe Johnson added 22 points. Reggie Evans posted a double-double with 15 points and 13 boards, and Gerald Wallace nearly had one with 17 and 9. The Nets’ stats provided them with little solace after the deflating loss. “When all is said and done, we did not do enough things to get a win,” explained Carlesimo. “We couldn’t get enough stops when we needed to get stops.”
Game 4 played out much differently than the previous 2 victories in the series for the Bulls. In games 2 and 3, the Bulls won ugly, low-scoring, grind out type of games. The Nets scored 82 and 76 points in those contests. In game 4, it was all offense, which would seem to favor the Nets, but Chicago was able to find a way to win. ”Obviously we’d like to play better defense,” mentioned Boozer, “but you’ve got to win different ways, especially in the playoffs.” The Bulls outshot the Nets, 53% to 49% on Saturday, illustrating just how bad the defenses were. “For two teams that are supposed to be pretty good defensively, it was a shootout, and not just because it was overtime,” stated P.J. “Neither of us did a good job stopping each other.” The big difference was that the Bulls were able to get stops when they needed them, even if it was the Nets stopping themselves.
There was no shortage of feel-good stories for Chicago, from Nate to Kirk to Joakim, but the biggest story is that they end up 1 step closer to round 2. If the miraculous comeback didn’t happen, the Nets would be in pretty good position. They would essentially have a best-of-3 series with 2 home games. Instead, the Bulls have Brooklyn on the ropes. Even if the Nets are able to beat the Hinrich-less Bulls at the Barclays Center on Monday, they get to come back to the United Center and deal with a rabid crowd that was fantastic for game 4. I’m sure the Bulls will be looking for the knockout blow on the road, and why shouldn’t they? So far they’ve dominated the series in a new statistic that White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson invented: The will to win. It won’t be easy. The Nets will be desperate. As coach P.J. Carlesimo said, “When you get to the elimination game, you put the uniforms away or you get to play another day.” We’ll see which one on Monday.
On a night where the majority of the teams in the NBA were resting their stars in preparation for the playoffs or simply letting them start the offseason early, the Chicago Bulls, led by their drill sergeant Tom Thibodeau, were still grinding. Names like Durant, Carmelo, Garnett and LeBron were taking the night off, watching their teams finish the regular season from the sideline, but that’s not the way the Bulls do things. Coach Thibs has put his stamp on this team over the last few years and forged a team identity that focuses on not taking nights off, so why should the season finale be any different. There wasn’t much at stake on Wednesday night. For the Bulls to not end up as the 5-seed, it would have taken a loss to the Wizards and a Hawks’ win over the Knicks. The Hawks weren’t going to let that happen. They benched their entire starting lineup for the finale. Despite that fact, Coach Thibodeau insisted before the game that he wasn’t going to be paying attention to the Hawks’ score and would focus on coaching this game to win, and he stuck to his guns. The Bulls used just about every able body they had on Wednesday night, making a point to work back in injured players Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Rip Hamilton and Marco Belinelli on a limited basis.
While most of the guys didn’t play big minutes, Thibs will no doubt catch a little heat for having important guys playing at the end of a meaningless game. The group on the floor down the stretch consisted of Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson, even though by that point the Hawks had already lost and the 5th seed was locked up. Like it or not, this is the way that Tom Thibodeau coaches, and that isn’t going to change. He constantly claims that he’s only worried about the next game, and that you can’t skip steps, and the one thing you can say about the man is he is not a hypocrite. You just sense from his demeanor on the sidelines during the game and in the postgame interviews that he feels like there’s no reason to even lace ‘em up and go play if you aren’t playing to win, and you have to admire that attitude. You don’t have to be happy when a guy gets hurt or re-aggravates an existing injury in garbage time, but you have to accept that it can happen with Thibs in charge.
As far as the actual game went on Wednesday, it looked like it was going to be an easy romp in the early going, as the Bulls scored the game’s first 10 points and led at one point 29-8, but the Wizards didn’t exactly go quietly. A.J. Price proved to be a huge sparkplug for the Wizards as they nearly erased the deficit by the middle of the 2nd quarter. From the time Price entered the game with 3:16 to go in the first until the 7 minute mark in the second, the Wizards went on a 27-8 run with A.J. accounting for a ridiculous 16 points in that span. From that point on it became kind of a cat-and-mouse game. The Bulls would put a few scores together and get up by a few buckets, and the Wizards would pull back in, but it never really felt like the Wizards had enough to overtake them. It was like watching an old-timey cartoon where a big guy is holding off a little guy with his hand on the little guy’s forehead as he flails away underneath, unable to overcome the big guy’s reach advantage. At the same time, however, the Bulls just couldn’t seem to put the game away.
The Wizards finally made it all the way back into the game with 3:19 to go in the 4th when who else but A.J. Price knocked down a 3-ball to tie the contest at 85. It was the first time the game had been tied since 0-0, and it would be the last. Chicago rattled off a 7-0 run following the basket, but the Wizards managed to give themselves one last chance in the closing seconds, down by 3. After a timeout with 17 seconds to go, Washington came out with a play to get a game-tying shot attempt for Price, but Taj Gibson was able to close out and block the shot, knocking it out of bounds with 10 ticks left. On their final shot attempt, it was John Wall launching a well-contested three, and it fell plenty short to secure the Bulls a 95-92 victory. While the win was nice, the most important thing for the Bulls was how they came out of the game in terms of health.
“We’re good physically,” explained Thibs afterward. “We were a little choppy, but that was to be expected. We cut back minutes on some guys and some guys got a little bit more so they could get a little bit of rhythm. Overall, I was pleased with the way we started the game, but we still have a lot of things we have to clean up.” The big takeaway for the Bulls is that everyone is back playing (well, except for Derrick Rose of course). For Taj and Joakim, it was just the second game back for each of them as they deal with recurring injuries. For Hamilton, it was his 6th game back after missing 19, and for Belinelli, it was his 7th after missing 7. Coach Thibodeau sounded almost giddy, or at least giddy by his standards when talking about the health of his squad. “Yeah, it’s nice. I like having the problem of having to decide on a rotation, and you’d like to have everyone completely healthy, but I’ll take what we have.”
The Wizards don’t have to worry about health, with a bit of time off now, but they can certainly be pleased with the way they finished the season. “We came in short-handed tonight,” commented Price after the game. “We had only 9 guys active and we got down early, but we kept chipping away, kept fighting back and made it a game tonight. That’s all you could ask for. It’s all about playing with pride and heart which we showed tonight.” Price finished with a game-high 24 points, and fellow bench player Chris Singleton also made a big impact with 13 points and 7 rebounds, but this team goes as their star point guard John Wall goes. Wall made a few brilliant plays in Wednesday night’s game, and finished with 23 points and 4 assists, but shot just 8-for-21 and missed the biggest shot of the night at the buzzer. Wall is still just 22, and will surely improve next season, which could springboard the Wizards into the playoffs. It seems silly to say that about a team that finished 24 games under .500, but Wall missed the team’s first 33 games with injury, and after his return the team went 24-25. That record would equate to a better winning percentage than the Milwaukee Bucks put up this season, and the Bucks will still be playing next week. At the very least, the Wizards play over the past couple of months is something they can build on for the future.
The Bulls top performers on Wednesday night were not exactly the usual suspects for them. Sure Carlos Boozer continued to be a double-double machine with 19 points and 15 rebounds, but Nazr Mohammed and Kirk Hinrich also came up big for Chicago in the win. Mohammed tallied 17 points and 7 boards while Hinrich came up with 18 and 5 assists. As for the two most recently returned Bulls, Taj seemed to find his rhythm fairly quickly, as he chipped in 8 points and 4 rebounds, but Joakim made almost no impact on the box score with 1 assist, 1 rebound, 1 steal and 2 turnovers in 14-plus minutes. “I’m just happy I didn’t have too much pain in my foot,” mentioned Noah afterwards. “I wish I would have gotten more time, but it is what it is. We’ll see where it goes.” Unfortunately for Joakim, things may be going in the wrong direction as there have been reports headed into the weekend that Noah has had a setback with his foot injury, and is likely doubtful for Saturday night’s game 1 in Brooklyn.
Wednesday’s win brought Chicago’s final regular season record to 45-37, and as I mentioned earlier earned them the number 5-seed in the East and a first round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets. The Bulls won the regular season series with Brooklyn 3-1, but that doesn’t mean much when the postseason rolls around. “The postseason is totally different,” asserted Jimmy Butler. “It’s 0-0. The past is the past.” Joakim Noah shared Butler’s sentiment: “It (the 3-1 record) doesn’t mean anything. It’s going to be grinded out. Everybody wants to win. The difference is that the schedule has such a big impact on games in the regular season with back-to-backs and injuries. In the playoffs, everybody comes ready to play.”
This series is going to be an interesting one because it pits strength against strength. The Bulls are one of the most formidable defensive teams in the NBA, and Brooklyn has three of the most dynamic offensive players in the league in guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, and center Brook Lopez. Williams has been playing at a different level this year for Brooklyn, averaging 19 points and nearly 8 assists per game on the season, and he’s always capable of going off for 30+. Johnson is an electric scorer, but has a reputation for trying to do too much and shooting more than he should, and Lopez is a strong post-up offensive player with an impressive mid-range game to boot. Lopez actually led the Nets in scoring. Finding a way to contain all 3 guys could be problematic. “They ask a lot of the 3 main guys, Deron, Joe and Lopez,” explained Rip Hamilton. “They’re the go-to-guys. Defensively, we’ve all got to be on a string. We’ve all got to help each other. It’s going to be tough.” Coach Thibodeau had plenty to add about Brooklyn’s team: “They are really good. They are the higher seed and they earned that. They play hard, they have Lopez who’s a low-post presence, and Deron Williams and Joe Johnson off the dribble, and a lot of other guys who are very good basketball players. We have to be ready for them.”
The Bulls’ players aren’t exactly bums on the offensive end, but they certainly won’t be able to simply try to score with Brooklyn. The Nets just have too much firepower for that. This series will be decided by Chicago’s defense, and their ability to at least slow Brooklyn down a bit. The most important thing for Chicago to do will be to force the ball out of Deron Williams’s hands. Just as dangerous as his scoring is his ability as a passer and playmaker, so you’d rather have the ball in someone else’s hands as much as possible. The Bulls might try to trap him and double-team him early in possessions to force the ball away from him before he can make things happen. Between Deng and Butler, the Bulls should be able to slow down Joe Johnson a bit, but the real challenge could come from Lopez. If Noah is unable to play for a couple of games, keeping the Nets’ big man in check could be a real challenge. It will be on Taj Gibson and crafty Nazr Mohammed to get the job done, because we all know about Carlos Boozer’s lack of defensive prowess. Assuming all of this goes according to plan for Chicago, they will have one other issue to deal with: keeping Reggie Evans and the rest of the Nets off the offensive glass. The last thing the Bulls can afford to do in this series is give the Nets second chances, and that means making sure they’re aware of Evans at all times once a shot goes up. Evans is on the floor to do two things, play defense and rebound, and he’s pretty good at both.
If Chicago is able to do all of that, they should have a solid shot to take out Brooklyn and earn the right to get knocked out by Miami in round 2 (C’mon, they’re not beating the Heat). If they aren’t, they are likely looking at another disappointing first round exit. Of course, there’s always the specter of Derrick Rose lurking, claiming he could still return in the playoffs, but I’ll believe that when I see it. However things unfold, it should be a fantastic series, wrought with drama and intensity. “This is what you play for,” effused Hamilton. “The real season starts now.” While Thibs apparently didn’t get that memo that Wednesday’s game wasn’t part of the real season, you can bet he’ll have the Bulls raring to go when this series tips Saturday night. “They’ll be ready, we’ll be ready,” explained the coach. “That’s what makes the playoffs so exciting.” Saturday night will be the first time a crowd at the Barclays Center will get to watch playoff basketball, but something tells me once the ball goes up, they’ll know what to do. It should be fun.
My prediction: Bulls in 6
Chicago is quickly becoming the place where streaks go to die. It was just over 2 weeks ago when the Miami Heat rolled into the United Center on a 25-game winning streak, only to be upended by the undermanned Bulls. On Thursday night, it was the New York Knicks’ turn to try and extend a lengthy win streak at the UC. The Knickerbockers had rattled off 13 straight wins coming into Thursday night, but like the Heat, they failed to tack on another victory in Chicago. The Bulls needed overtime to get the job done, but they battled back from deficits of 15 or more twice and pulled off a 118-111 win. Luol Deng returned to the lineup for the Bulls after missing the previous two contests with a rib injury, but it was Nate Robinson who stole the show. Nate tallied 35 points off the bench, including 8 of Chicago’s 13 points in overtime. Carmelo Anthony led all scorers with 36, extending his streak of 35+ point games to 6, and he added an astounding 19 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough.
Both Chicago and New York came into Thursday’s contest a little beat up in the frontcourt. The Bulls were still without starting center Joakim Noah and backup power forward Taj Gibson, while the Knicks were missing all of their big men, a list that includes Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby, Amare’ Stoudemire, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace. The result of the injuries was a matchup of two of the smallest lineups you’ll ever see in an NBA game. 6’7” Jimmy Butler took the opening tip for the Bulls against 6’8” Chris Copeland for the Knicks, and for a couple stretches during the game, small forwards Luol Deng and Carmelo Anthony played center. The Knicks have been playing undersized for a few games now, but it seemed to take the Bulls a little while to get used to it. ”It was crazy,” mentioned Robinson. “It was different, but at the same time it’s basketball. We’ve still got to go out there and execute.” Early on, it appeared the Knicks’ win streak was in good hands as Chicago struggled to keep pace and defend the 3-point line.
The Knicks opened the game like a runaway train, connecting on 9 of their first 12 shots from the field en route to a 23-6 lead and a couple quick Bulls’ timeouts. After the 2nd timeout, the Bulls settled in and started to chip away. They started to hit shots, defend and rebound, and they went on a 10-0 run out of the timeout and had the lead all the way down to 4 late in the first. The teams traded baskets for much of the second quarter, and they went in at the half with the Knicks leading by 5.
There was an awkward exchange with around 4 minutes to go in the half when Carmelo Anthony was hit with a technical foul after drawing his 3rd foul on the Bulls in a matter of 10 seconds of game time. It’s rare to see a player receive a technical foul after a call goes his way, and it’s even rarer when 3 calls in a row go his way, but referee Joey Crawford has a reputation for having a quick trigger on the technicals. He backed that reputation up again seconds later, when he called one on Nate Robinson as Rip Hamilton shot the free throw from the Melo technical. When asked what he got T’d up for, Nate commented, “For not saying anything. It is what it is. Joey’s a hothead just like me, so I don’t blame him.” Crawford had one more technical left in him in the 1st half, charging Luol Deng with one for arguing a foul call a couple minutes after the other 2.
In the early stages of the second half, the game seemed to be falling right back into the Knicks hands, as Carmelo Anthony asserted his will. Anthony controlled the action for the first 7 minutes of the half, with 8 points and 6 rebounds as the Knicks built the lead back up to 15. The Bulls seemed to be running out of energy and fading fast on the scoreboard until Jimmy Butler turned the tide. Butler came up with steals on back-to-back possessions and turned both into breakaway dunks to cut the lead down to 11. The sequence gave the Bulls a huge spark and started a 24-5 run that had Chicago up by 4 with 9 and a half minutes to go. Rip Hamilton, Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson all connected on triples during the rally, and it energized the crowd in a big way. For most of the 4th quarter, the crowd was on its feet and chanting “de-fense” every time the Knicks had the ball, and erupting every time the Bulls made a play. It was a playoff atmosphere, and Chicago fed off it. The Bulls continued to play well throughout the middle of the 4th quarter, and held a 99-90 lead with 5:42 to go, but they went cold from then on. The Bulls didn’t make another field goal in regulation after that point. It was New York’s turn to battle back. The Knicks closed back in behind Anthony and J.R. Smith, but a few clutch free throws by Kirk Hinrich kept them ever so slightly at bay. With just over 40 seconds to play, the Bulls got the ball with a 105-103 lead and a chance to put New York away. Unfortunately for the Bulls, Nate Robinson decided to do something very Nate Robinson-like.
Robinson spent most of the possession dribbling around, working the shot clock, then as the clock wound down, he drove towards the bucket, but pulled up from about ten feet and took about as off-balance a shot as I’ve ever seen that didn’t come close to going in. I’m convinced he couldn’t see the basket when he shot it, but it caromed wildly off the glass and gave the ball back to the Knicks with a chance to tie or take the lead with 19 seconds left. Out of a timeout, the Knicks went where they went all night, to Carmelo Anthony, who was able to draw a foul on a quick drive to the basket with 14.5 seconds left. Anthony sank both free throws to tie the game, and it was the Bulls turn to try to end it. They were able to get a decent look for Luol Deng from about 12 feet, but his shot rimmed out and the Knicks snared the rebound and got a timeout with 1.5 to go. They would have one more chance, and it turned out to be a good one. The play was designed for J.R. Smith, but as luck would have it, the Bulls defended it well and were able to deny Smith the ball, but they didn’t deny Anthony, who had a decent look at a long 2 at the buzzer. The shot looked good when it left his hand, but clanked out and sent the game to overtime.
In the extra session, the Bulls took control almost immediately. Robinson converted a 3-point play just 16 seconds in, and after a Carmelo basket, Luol Deng hit a big 3-pointer on the following Bulls’ possession to open the lead to 4. The teams traded missed jumpers for a while, before another curious technical foul put the Bulls on the line to tack on another point. For the second time in the game, a Knicks’ player was called for a technical after a call went their way. This time it was J.R. Smith after being fouled by Jimmy Butler. Robinson hit the free throw to extend the lead to 5 with 2:09 to go, and after another stop, Nate put in a layup to pretty much put the game away, up 7 with 1:36 to play. The Bulls held on for another improbable victory, and the Knicks streak came to an end. “I really thought the ball was going in,” mentioned Carmelo regarding the last shot in regulation. “I wasn’t trying to go to overtime. I thought we played extremely well tonight, and in the overtime, I thought we just ran out of gas.”
As I mentioned, this was the 6th game in a row in which Carmelo scored at least 35 points, even if he did need overtime to break that mark, and his 19 rebounds were easily the most he’s had in a game all season (Previous high: 14 vs. Milwaukee). The problem was that he shot 13-of-34 to get to the 36 points. The Knicks entire game-plan ran through Carmelo, and it led to inadequate ball movement. Carmelo had the ball in his hands on almost every possession he was on the floor, and he finished with just 2 assists. As a team, the Knicks had 5 fewer assists than Chicago on 3 more made FGs. The fact that the Knicks didn’t share the ball as well as Chicago probably led to the scoring dry spells that let the Bulls back into the game. While Carmelo led the way, J.R. Smith also had an impressive stat line for the Knicks, tallying 28 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists. Raymond Felton scored 19 to go along with 6 assists and 5 rebounds, and Chris Copeland scored 14, but shot just 4-for-14.
Nate’s 35 led the way for Chicago, but Jimmy Butler was equally impressive. Butler was fresh off a career-high 28 points last Tuesday against Toronto, and he scored another 22 against the Knicks, but also added 14 rebounds (another career-high), 3 blocks, 3 steals and 2 assists. Carlos Boozer suffered a brutal shooting night, but still accrued 13 points and 15 rebounds, good for his 9th double-double in his last 10 games. Rip Hamilton seems to be getting his timing back in his second game back from a back injury that sidelined him for 2 months, as he put up 14 points and 8 assists. Deng’s return was marred by foul trouble, but he still managed a solid night with 16 points and 8 rebounds, and had the coach singing his praises afterwards. When asked why the team was able to battle back in this game after falling short in comeback tries against Detroit and Toronto, Coach Thibs answered in 1 word: “Luol.” When asked to elaborate, Thibs did. “It’s just what he brings to the team. Luol is the glue to our team. When things are tough, he makes us go. There are a lot of subtleties to his game that people don’t notice or appreciate, but I think all his teammates and his coaches do. That’s why he makes our team what it is.”
As great as Luol is, while he was out Jimmy Butler filled in admirably as the engine of this team despite the 0-2 mark in the 2 games, and has possibly played himself into a starting role for next season. “He’s been a tremendous lift,” explained Hinrich. “Every time he’s been called upon, he’s played huge. You can just see his comfort level and his confidence are much higher. He’s really grown up before our eyes.” The head coach also couldn’t help but gush about Butler after this game. “I love Jimmy’s demeanor,” effused Thibs. “Jimmy will keep coming. He doesn’t get discouraged. He keeps battling. He has improved each and every day and he’s just gotten so much better. He’s a great worker, and doing an unbelievable job for us.” With Rip Hamilton’s contract expiring at the end of the season, it’s easy to envision Butler stepping into Rip’s starting spot next year. Derrick Rose will certainly be back by then, which would give the Bulls one of the most dynamic players in the league at point guard, and the best tandem of wing defenders in the league as well in Jimmy and Luol. Noah and Taj’s motors aren’t going anywhere as long as they can stay healthy, and Boozer will be back to provide some scoring inside. It gets very easy to see this team as a serious championship contender next season with that core group, but I digress. There is still a playoff run to be made this season, and we all know how Thibs doesn’t like to skip steps.
The Knicks playoff run will likely start off against the Boston Celtics, whom they’ve beaten in 3 out of 4 regular season meetings. The Knicks will likely be heavily favored to win the series, but the Celtics are crafty and should make it interesting. The Knicks real worries should come after they advance to round 2, where they would meet the Pacers, the Bulls or the Hawks (depending on which of Chicago and Atlanta is the 6-seed). I doubt they would have much trouble with Atlanta, but Indiana or Chicago would be a nightmare matchup for New York. The Knicks have struggled all season with physical teams, and teams in the East don’t get more physical than the Bulls and Pacers. Indiana is 2-1 against the Knicks so far in the regular season, and the Bulls swept all 4 meetings. Carmelo Anthony downplayed the head-to-head struggles against Chicago saying, “They can have it. They can have the regular season wins. We’re not worried about them at this point. We’re just worried about ourselves.” They may not be worried now, but they certainly will be if they draw a relatively healthy Bulls team in round 2.
The Bulls have just 4 regular season games left after Thursday night’s contest, and winning them all shouldn’t be the biggest priority for the team. Getting everyone healthy should. Joakim and Taj will be a big part of any chances this team has to advance in the playoffs, so they have to keep working to get back out there. Rip and Marco need to continue to work at getting back in rhythm and be clicking on all cylinders into the playoffs, and the rest of the team just needs to not add any names to the walking wounded. The Bulls can ill-afford any new injuries. “Our best chance of winning is with everybody healthy,” stated Boozer. “We know that, so obviously for us, we’d like to have everybody back.” At this point, it seems clear that Derrick Rose will not be back. I’d be stunned if he were to play his first actual game in the playoffs. That just isn’t happening, so the Bulls have to be prepared to go with the guys they have. Winning these last few games might help the Bulls secure the 5-seed instead of the 6, but I think they’re better off as the 6. Both Indiana and Brooklyn would be challenging first round foes, but if you can avoid Miami in the second round, I say do it. Maybe they can pull off a surprising run past Indiana and New York. I’d be lying if I said I think the Bulls can beat Miami in a best-of-7 series without their MVP, but who knows, they’ve surprised us before. At this point, it’s about getting their ducks in a row, so to speak, and being as close to full strength as possible. As Coach Thibodeau loves to say, they’re going to need everybody.