NBA Playoffs, Bucks Hawks game 5: Mike Woodson, it's your move to save your defense

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Thumbnail image for Jennings_celebrate.jpgNBA playoff matchups are really a chess match. Every once in a while there is a queen with limitless powers on the board — your LeBron James, Dwyane Wade guys — but for the most part a coach’s pieces have limits. Can only move in an L-shape, can only move diagonally, can’t shoot from the outside, can’t defend the pick-and-roll.

The coach’s job — hide your players limitations while setting up situations to exploit your opponent’s.

Four games in, Scott Skiles is the better chess player. He has exposed Mike Woodson’s pieces. If Woodson can’t answer, the superior talent of the Hawks is in trouble.

Atlanta’s defense is really all about two big, long athletes defending the paint — Al Horford and Josh Smith. They come flying in from the weakside and send balls four rows deep. They embarrass guys. They cover up for the fact that the actual perimeter defenders for the Hawks — Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford, in particular — are not good. At all.

But for the last couple games, Skiles has pick-and-rolled the Hawks into submission. The Bucks bring one of their bigs — say Kurt Thomas — out to set a screen for Salmons. Joe Johnson can’t fight through it, so the Hawks almost always switch, and now Smith is on Salmons. Smith is long and pretty quick for a power forward, but he can’t get in front of Salmons 20 feet from the basket, so Salmons attacks and the Hawks defense breaks down because one of the only good defenders they have has been beat. Salmons gets the shot he wants or a good pass to someone else wide open.

The Bucks have done basically the same thing with Brandon Jennings on Bibby and Crawford. It’s why Jennings is playing like it’s November again.

The Bucks have been draining their shots, which is part of it, but they have been getting shots they like. It might be time to have Smith and Horford stay back, take away the drive and make the Bucks hit jumpshots. On the road. Salmons can do that, Jennings can be streaky but it happens. However, it beats the parade of layups and floaters from those two Bucks.

It’s a problem Atlanta needs to solve if they are serious about being serious contenders, because in the next round (if they make it) Orlando will do the same thing. And they are way better at it.

The Hawks come home to the friendly confines, where they play more aggressively. But with that has to come some smart plays, and a smart chess move by Woodson.

Bull for Bull: Pau Gasol to replace Jimmy Butler in All-Star Game

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 6:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Chicago Bulls prepares to shoot a free throw against the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 6, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Jimmy Butler is out of the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto this weekend due to a strained knee. Which suck, because he earned that spot, and while the fans didn’t vote him in the coach’s did.

Butler’s teammate Pau Gasol will replace him.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gets to make the call on a replacement, and he stayed in Chicago, but he added a front court player to replace a guard. Keeping a Bulls representative might have been part of the thinking. The coaches’ votes on replacement players has been weighed in the past (Gasol may have been high on that list, coaches love him). Also, the East roster has a lot of wings and was light on bigs (Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap and Chris Bosh are the only real bigs), so this gives coach Tyronn Lue some flexibility up front.

The East leading Cleveland Cavaliers remain with just one representative, LeBron James (voted in by the fans).

Gasol is averaging 17 points, 10.9 rebounds, and a couple blocks a game, and is the only thing close to a consistent performer the Bulls have. Besides the injured Butler.

Bulls’ All-Star Jimmy Butler out 3-4 weeks with strained knee

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It was concerning when it happened — Jimmy Butler injured his knee and had to be taken off the court on a stretcher.

But then the reports came back saying the X-rays were negative, this was just a strain. Butler was going to miss some time, but the question was how much?

Turns out, 3-4 weeks — including the All-Star Game, the team announced Tuesday. From the official team press release:

Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler was re-examined by Bulls Head Team Physician Brian Cole.  Butler is expected to miss the next three to four weeks with a strained left knee. Butler has begun rehabbing his injury and he will be allowed to engage in all activities as tolerated with the primary goal of maintaining his conditioning over the ensuing weeks.

Butler is the Bulls best player, averaging 22.4 points a game and handling a lot of the shot creation for the team (along with Derrick Rose, who was out Monday injured). The Bulls offense is 1.6 points per 100 possessions better when Butler plays, plus he usually draws the other team’s best wing player as his defensive assignment.

Following an ugly loss to the Hornets Monday night, the Bulls are now 5-12 in their last 17 games. Since Joakim Noah went out for the season with an injured shoulder in particular, their defense has struggled. They still have no offensive identity.  Chicago has fallen to the seven seed in the West, just 1.5 games ahead of Charlotte and falling out of the playoffs completely. This injury is simply going to add to that slide.

The Bulls thought they were the team that could challenge Cleveland for supremacy in the East at the start of the season. Now they may need a late push just to make the playoffs.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will pick his All-Star Game replacement. In the past, he has picked the player highest in the fan voting not selected as a reserve, in this case that would be Kyrie Irving. But Silver can go any direction he chooses.

Report: George Karl to remain Kings coach following face-to-face meeting with GM

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George Karl isn’t going anywhere as coach of the Sacramento Kings after all.

At least for now.

Marc Stein of ESPN, who had the report that the Kings decided to fire Karl during the All-Star Break — now says the two sides have sat down and hashed things out. For now.

Those first reports went too far down the line, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

First things first, the Kings are a leaky organization right now. Which is never a good sign.

This has become a power struggle in the organization — DeMarcus Cousins has said the Kings’ problems go beyond the players, and he is known not to be a fan of Karl (Rajon Rondo is the coach’s biggest supporter because Karl gives him a green light). Owner Vivek Ranadive remains too impatient, stability is needed.

But there are still big picture questions to be answered.

Ranadive, with Vlade Divac, needs to sit down and set the long-term course for this team, including style of play they want to have, then decide if Karl can be part of that future. Also, if Cousins can be part of that future. If those two can be part of the future together (I’m not sure they can).

There needs to be more meetings with the Kings, and then this summer some significant decisions must be made. But doing it now at the All-Star break isn’t going to change anything. So Karl stays.

Adam Silver remains optimistic there will be no 2017 lockout

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By this coming December 15, both the NBA owners and the NBA players can opt-out of the current NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. At least one side (likely the players) is expected to do so, setting up a potential lockout in the summer of 2017. The last one in 2011 lasted 161 days and forced the NBA to start its season on Christmas Day.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is optimistic it will not come to that.

The two sides are already talking about an extension of the deal, and Adam Silver talked about that on the USA Today A to Z Podcast with Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt, something they detailed in a story.

Encouraging signs exist – even if there is a lockout – that regular-season games won’t be lost, as was the case in 2011. The two sides are meeting regularly, building relationships and trust. The league is dealing with new leadership on the union’s side: Michele Roberts, the NBPA executive director, has been on the job about 17 months and NBPA general counsel Gary Kohlman was hired at the start of the 2014-15 season.

“My cause for optimism is based on to me the spirit of the discussions and the directness in which we’ve been dealing with each other,” Silver said.

The two sides have done a good job keeping the negotiations private and not negotiating through the media. So far. And the number of optimists that a CBA extension can be worked out is growing around the league daily. The new faces at the negotiating table help with that, some of the old animosities are gone.

But the main reason for optimism: There is too much money on the table now for both sides to screw it up. The new television deal brings $2.6 billion to the table annually in addition to gate and other revenues. It’s putting money in the pockets of owners plus dramatically driving up their franchise values. For players, it means larger paydays — in the new system the average NBA player salary will be around $8 million annually, and the average starter will make $12 million a season (ballpark numbers, of course). Players are not going to want to miss paychecks for esoteric, or even good, reasons.

Never underestimate the corrupting power of human greed. These talks can go sideways. But there is reason to be hopeful that no lockout is coming. And that starts with the fact both sides are already talking to each other (and not the media).