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.

 

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson each hit seven threes, Warriors pull away from Magic

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each hit seven 3-pointers and the Golden State Warriors won their seventh straight game, beating the Orlando Magic 118-98 on Sunday.

Tied at the half, the Warriors woke up from West Coast time in the second half to pull away. This was the first Eastern time zone noon tip for them since 1995, when they lost by 34 points in Orlando.

Curry went 7 for 13 on 3s and scored 27 points while Thompson as 7 for 9 from behind the arc and had 21 points. The Warriors shot 19 of 42 overall from 3-point range while the Magic went 7 for 28.

After trailing by 11 in the first half and committing a dozen turnovers, the Warriors went into the break even at 50. Curry hit four 3s and had 14 points in the third quarter as the Warriors outscored the Magic 42-24.

Kevin Durant added 15 points for the Warriors, Zaza Pachulia had 14 and JaVale McGee added 13.

Elfrid Payton led Orlando with 23 points. Nikola Vucevic, Jeff Green, C.J. Watson and Bismack Biyombo each had 12.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Lost at Orlando 132-98 on March 26, 1995, in their previous noon tip in the East. … Coach Steve Kerr decided to rest backup point guard Shaun Livingston.

Magic: D.J. Augustin sprained his right ankle during the second quarter and did not return to the game. … The Magic signed D-League affiliate Erie BayHawks forward Anthony Brown to a 10-day contract Sunday. Brown is averaging 21.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and one steal in 16 games with the BayHawks.

 

Report: Bulls shopping Rajon Rondo, Nikola Mirotic as trade deadline apporaches

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 02: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Chicago Bulls watches from the bench as the Bulls take on the Charlotte Hornets at the United Center on January 2, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Hornets 118-111. The 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 the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Chicago’s front office chose to make quick-fix, treading water moves this summer. They wisely traded Derrick Rose and kept Jimmy Butler as a franchise cornerstone, but when the possibility of getting Dwyane Wade became a reality they decided to push to win more now, adding Rajon Rondo to the mix. The fit seemed awkward from the start and the result is exactly what everyone outside Chicago predicted — a roughly .500 team (22-23) that is terrible at shooting the three.

The Bulls are barely in the playoff mix and are now looking to make changes, shopping Rondo and Nikola Mirotic in hopes of finding players that are better fits, reports Joe Crowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

According to multiple sources, the Bulls have been actively shopping Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic in hopes of shaking up the roster, as well as making a second-half run in the wide-open Eastern Conference. However, according to one of the sources, neither player is moving the needle as far as what general manager Gar Forman deems a worthy return.

“Obviously, you knew that would be the case with Rondo,’’ the source said. “But they don’t like what they’re hearing back on [Mirotic] either. Then again, that’s a [front office] that tends to overvalue its assets.”

This isn’t really news to anyone following the Bulls, they have been looking for deals — particularly for Rondo — for a little while.

The bigger question is: What do the Bulls think they could get back for Rondo? It’s not going to be anything of value. The summer free agent market for him was not strong and, while he was arguably the best point guard still on the market when they went looking, the $14 million they gave him this season was more about money they had to spend than pure market value. Since then, Rondo has had clashes with the coaching staff and been sent to the bench which plays into his reputation (whether that is fair or not is another question), making it even harder to find a taker for him.

Mirotic has taken a step back this season and is inconsistent with what his supposed to be his strength, outside shooting — he is hitting just 31.1 percent from three this season. While a change of scenery could be good for his touch from the outside, he is also a major defensive liability, which limits his value.

All of which is to say, the Bulls are not going to get a lot in return here. The Bulls may realize that Cristiano Felicio is the future at that spot for them, but it doesn’t mean others are biting on Mirotic.

Also, just a reminder that the Bulls are shooting down all trade interest about Butler.

 

Baron Davis figured out why Russell Westbrook isn’t starting All-Star Game: Russian hackers

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When the starters for next month’s All-Star Game in New Orleans were announced this week, there was a mini-uproar on Twitter because Russell Westbrook — the guy averaging a triple-double this season — wasn’t picked. It’s hard for me to get worked up over two-time MVP Stephen Curry getting the nod, but if you want someone to blame it was the fans’ call — they voted Curry first overall, James Harden second, Westbrook third. The players and media had Westbrook first, Harden second, but the tie is broken by the fan vote.

Enter Baron Davis with the timely joke.

We just need to tie in a Zaza Pachulia joke and it will be perfect.

Report: Bucks brought Jabari Parker off bench for discussing with media team’s meeting

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker, center, looks for an open teammate as he is surrounded by Miami Heat players during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Miami. The Heat defeated the Bucks 109-97. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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The Milwaukee Bucks had lost four in a row and had slid out of a playoff slot in the East. It’s not one end of the court — in their last five games, the Bucks had the second-worst defense and fourth-worst offense in the NBA. After that fourth loss, the team held a players’ only meeting, one where Jabari Parker reportedly ripped his teammates for a lack of togetherness.

In the postgame media sessions that followed, Parker told the press he confirmed there was a meeting and said he had been “thrashed” by his teammates for what he said.

It was that speaking to the media that got him benched for a game — as decided by his teammates — reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker did not start in Saturday’s road loss to the Miami Heat for violating a team rule that prohibits disclosing locker room discourse to the media, league sources told ESPN…

Parker’s teammates deliberated and decided the appropriate punishment for the violation was to bring him off the bench against the Heat, league sources told ESPN. It was the first time this season that he did not start.

The meeting and the benching didn’t help, the Bucks fell to the lowly Heat 109-97. (Team/players meetings are overrated in how often they help teams turn things around.)

The good news for the Bucks is that in a tight East they remain just a game out of the playoffs and three games out of the five seed. It’s going to be a tough week to turn that around with the Rockets, resurgent Sixers, Raptors, and Celtics on the schedule.