NBA Playoffs: Zone defense ain't no thing, Cavs coast to a Game 1 win over Bulls

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Thumbnail image for Jamison_Game_Bulls.jpgLet’s not pretend that the Bulls’ performance in this game was somehow significant; after building an early double-digit lead, the Cavs worked, and held, and coasted, until a temporary hiccup against the Bulls’ zone defense made this game a bit closer than it should have been.

Does that mean Chicago is somehow going to make a series out of this thing? Not bloody likely. As soon as Cleveland had the chance to regroup during a timeout, their execution against the zone was much improved: they found holes to shoot from mid-range, hit the offensive boards, and made quick cuts to the basket through the heart of the zone.

That’s not to fault the Bulls’ effort, because Chicago was very focused. They’re just not all that talented, and when forced to match up against the likes of LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal, the Bulls struggled.

Cleveland focused on going through Shaq (12 points on nine shots, five rebounds, four assists) early in the game, where he put a spotlight on Joakim Noah’s inability to contain him one-on-one. Noah just doesn’t have the size to deny O’Neal position in the post, and while he worked to contest Shaq’s shots, his lack of size (and girth/strength, especially) was a bit of a disadvantage. Cavs fans should be pleased with Shaq’s first game back from injury, even if it’s going to take a few games to get O’Neal properly re-acclimated to the pace of the NBA game.

LeBron James twiddled his thumbs to score 24 points while grabbing five rebounds and throwing in six assists for good measure. The guy doesn’t just make the game look easy, but also makes racking up stats look easy. He let the offense work through Shaq at times, made a few passes, and let let the Cavaliers offense establish his own flow.

That may not make for a spectacular individual performance now, but what about later in the playoffs when the production of Antawn Jamison (15 points, 10 rebounds) or Mo Williams (19 points, 10 assists, five turnovers) matters much, much more? Cleveland will be thankful for games like this one.

There was the Cavaliers’ turnover problems (18 in the game to 14 for the Bulls). Make a note. It could have just been a few over-anxious trigger men on the fast break, but Cleveland was a bit sloppy with the ball.

Derrick Rose (28 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, seven assists) was as spectacular as advertised. He wasn’t as efficient as you’d like to see him be (how could he be with this team against Cleveland’s defense?), but his array of floaters and runners was absolutely beautiful. It’s days like this where you see what Rose could be if his mid-range game was a bit more complete: he gets right to the basket, nails a step-back jumper, and hits an intermediate floater, creating a can’t-win proposition for the D. If and when this cat develops three-point range, the entire league should be on notice.

Luol Deng is better than the Luol Deng that played today. He defended LeBron fairly well at times, but his decision making on offense was nothing short of atrocious.

Unfortunately, the day’s events indicated that the rest of the series will proceed as planned. The Cavs will have plenty of time to tweak their offensive approach against the Bulls’ pesky zone, the Bulls aren’t likely to grow out of their significant size disadvantage (they lost out 38-50 on the boards), and Cleveland’s depth (Anderson Varejao outrebounded the Bulls’ reserves 15-4 on his own) isn’t going anywhere. A temporarily successful gimmick defense does not a series make, no matter how impressive Derrick Rose looked.

 

Report: Kevin Durant has “done his due diligence on the Bay Area”

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 6: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder attempts a free throw against the Golden State Warriors on February 6, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant has not made up his mind about what he will do as a free agent this summer. Until his playoff run ends, whenever that may be for the Thunder, his focus will be on bringing a title to Oklahoma City.

But even he admits he can’t help but think about free agency a little.

The buzz around the league is Golden State is at the front of the line if Durant decides to leave OKC, and he has done some research, reports Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

The Warriors play in front of an intimidating Oracle Arena crowd and are expected to debut a new San Francisco arena in 2019. Durant has quietly done his due diligence on the Bay Area, too, sources told Yahoo Sports.

His people — specifically agent Rich Kleiman and personal manager Charlie Bell — would be stupid not to have done some research on not only Golden State but on every other team he might consider: Houston, Miami, Washington, both teams in Los Angeles, the Knicks, and on down the line. Golden State, playing with Stephen Curry, certainly would have its attractions.

I’m still in the camp that Durant signs a 1+1 deal to stay in Oklahoma City (meaning he can opt out after one more season, in 2017), and it’s all about the cash. While he could get 30 percent of a $90 million cap this summer (about $27 million a season to start), with one more year of service in 2017 Durant could get 35 percent of $108 million ($37.8 million to start). That’s a lot of cash. Plus he gets one more chance at a ring with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who both are 2017 free agents.

But you can be sure whatever Durant decides, it will be well researched and thought out. And he’s not going to announce it in a live special on ESPN.

Byron Scott expected to start D’Angelo Russell after All-Star break, but hasn’t talked to him about it

Byron Scott D'Angelo Russell
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Communication.

When we talk about Lakers’ coach Byron Scott’s questioned player development skills with young players Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and particularly D'Angelo Russell, it is his old-school lack of communication that comes into question. It’s what is different from what Gregg Popovich or Quin Snyder or other guys developing strong young players have done. From the outside (we’re not in practices/film sessions), we see Scott was not letting Russell play through mistakes — feeling that was rewarding bad behavior — but then not doing a good job communicating what the player is doing wrong.

This comment from Scott, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, sums it up perfectly.

Scott plans to start Russell after NBA All-Star weekend (Feb. 12-14). But Scott said the two have not talked about that issue.

“He’s not old enough for me to have a meeting and discuss, ‘What do you think?’” Scott said.

I would say you should have that meeting — it’s called a teachable moment. “What do you think? Well here is what I see that is different.”

Part of what is going on with Scott and Russell is the concern from some in the Lakers’ camp that Russell is a little too full of himself, that his ego is too big, and it could become a problem. So they are trying to take him down a peg. I would say that for a smart player — and Russell is that — the game is humbling and will take care of the ego issue. But you’ve got to give him run to develop him.

Play him, and then communicate with him. It’s a system that does worth with modern players.

Nikola Vucevic hits fade-away game winner for Magic against Hawks

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The Hawks almost came back and won this — Atlanta went on an 8-0 run in the final minutes to tie the game at 94-94 with Orlando. The Magic had one last chance with 2.2 seconds left.

Nikola Vucevic nailed it.

Can’t blame Al Horford‘s defense on this one, he pushed Vucevic out and contested the shot. But in a make-or-miss league Vucevic nailed the game winner, Orlando wins 96-94.

If that looks familiar, Vucevic knocked down pretty much the same shot against the Lakers earlier this season.

LeBron James on Super Bowl: “Got to go with the Carolina Panthers”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, right, embraces Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the Cavaliers defeated the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 in Charlotte, N.C. The Cavaliers won 95-90. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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We know Stephen Curry — who spent many of his formative years in Charlotte and still thinks of the city as his hometown — is all in on the Carolina Panthers today against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 30.

On this, he and LeBron James agree.

LeBron sounded like the politically cautious, image-conscious version of himself at the start of this quote from Uninterrupted on Facebook, but as he gets going, you can quickly see who he wants in this game (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“I don’t know if I quite got a prediction but I definitely want to see a great Super Bowl,” James said in the video. “But if it was a life and death situation and I had to choose one team and one player, I got to go with Killah Cam. Got to go with the Carolina Panthers, they’ve been playing the most consistent football all year round. Both offensively, defensively and special teams. Got to go with Cam and one of my boys plays for them too as well, Ted Ginn Jr., that’s been showing out all year as well.

“No disrespect to the Broncos. I love their team. They got the legend at quarterback, they got that defense that’s out of control. They got some receivers that be balling out as well. They’re really well coached as well and that’s the reason they are in the Super Bowl. But I’m rolling with the Carolina Panthers today.”

A lot of NBA players like the way Cam Newton plays — with exuberance, wearing his heart on his sleeve, dancing and celebrating. That’s how Curry and LeBron and other NBA players want to play their game, and they feel reined in by the league. They relate to Cam Newton and the ridiculous role model/celebration debate.

We’ll see how much celebrating the Denver defense lets Newton do.