Bulls temporarily fall out of playoff picture

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The bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff teams may not be the best teams in the world (especially compared to their cross-conference counterparts), but each is surprisingly competitive and quite entertaining on some level or another. Plus, if you’re privileged to have NBA League Pass, you’ll be able to watch five capable, hungry teams fighting and clawing for every chance to climb up the standings.

Actually, with the Bulls picking up their fifth straight loss last night, let’s make that four capable teams.

It’s not that Chicago isn’t talented or doesn’t have it in them to make a playoff run. Far from it. It’s just that their potential to be a solid team has been sitting on the bench in a protective boot in the form of Joakim Noah. He’s played in only four games since February 5th, and not surprisingly, he’s been absent during each game of the Bulls’ current losing streak.

And now, if they’re not careful, Chicago could end up losing even more valuable ground in the playoff hunt. They’re only half a game back from the 7th seed, but that’s all it would take at the end of the season to keep Derrick Rose and co. watching from their couches at home. There’s plenty of time left for Noah to recover, return, and make an impact, but the important thing is that the Bulls find a way to tread water between now and then.

The key to doing that is to play anything resembling defense, which is understandably difficult given that Brad Miller is now starting at center for the Bulls, with his primary back-ups being Chris Richard (cue the “Who?”s) and Taj Gibson. Not exactly the ideal situation for interior defense of any kind. From K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

“Joakim helps us a lot, but our team defense hasn’t been very good,” Kirk Hinrich said. “We’re getting away from what has made us successful.”

Indeed, that’s eight straight opponents who have surpassed the century
mark against the Bulls. That hasn’t happened in franchise history since
Feb. 8, 1990. It’s also the fifth time in eight games the opponent has
shot 50 percent or better as the Jazz, the league’s most accurate
shooting team, checked in at 54.2 percent.

The Bulls also lost Luol Deng to a right calf strain early in the fourth quarter. Deng, who will
undergo an MRI on Wednesday, had returned from missing Monday’s
practice with the flu to score 14 points in 32 minutes.

“We’re not going to win games unless we play better ‘D,'” Deng said. “Our offense is fine.”

Al Horford shows he still has hops dunking on Solomon Hill (VIDEO)

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That’s just nasty.

Atlanta’s Al Horford gets the ball out high, but within his range, so when he pump fakes Indiana’s Lavoy Allen goes flying by. That opens up the lane and Horford attacks it, Solomon Hill tries to cut him off, but Horford just finishes threw him.

Pacers and Hawks played an entertaining, close game Friday night.

Dwyane Wade shows he still has hops with dunk on Hornets (VIDEO)

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Dwyane Wade still has some springs.

In what may be his best dunk in recent memory, he shoulders Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to create space in transition, then gets up and throws it down before Nicolas Batum can get there for the block.

Not sure even Wade saw that one coming.

Reigning dunk champ LaVine: ‘I’ve got tricks up my sleeve’

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine is heading back to All-Star weekend to defend his slam dunk title. And he says he has “a few tricks up my sleeve” after dominating the event last year.

LaVine will compete against Detroit center Andre Drummond, Denver swingman Will Barton and Orlando forward Aaron Gordon in Toronto next weekend.

LaVine was one of the breakout stars of All-Star weekend last year with his electric performance in the dunk contest. He says he debated about coming back and made his decision after strong encouragement from his fans.

If LaVine wins, he will become the fourth player in the 31-year history of the event to repeat as champion. Michael Jordan, Jason Richardson and Nate Robinson are the others.

Report: Blake Griffin has second procedure on hand, timeline remains unchanged

Blake Griffin
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Blake Griffin will still return to the Clippers some time in March (barring any setbacks).

That said, he had a second procedure this week to repair the boxer’s fracture in his right hand, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Clippers forward Blake Griffin underwent a second procedure this week on his broke right hand, sources told ESPN. The procedure was a part of the original surgery last week, so sources said the 4-6 week timeframe for his return remains unchanged.

This might help explain why Griffin’s hand looked so swollen and scarred this week. But to be clear, this was a planned second procedure, not a setback.

Griffin suffered the fracture punching a Clippers’ equipment manager while everyone was out to dinner in Toronto recently, while Griffin was still sidelined with a quadricep injury. The Clippers have moved on, but it is likely the league will tack on a couple of game suspension for Griffin upon his return to health.

And no, the Clippers are not looking to trade Griffin in spite of this. So stop asking.