Chicago Bulls v Orlando Magic

Bulls barely, and we mean barely edge Magic without Dwight Howard


Bulls 102 Magic 99.

This was a fantastic ballgame that will be overshadowed by narratives about the MVP. The questions will be about how the Magic nearly beat the Bulls with Dwight Howard spending a one-game suspension for hitting 18 techs, and what that says about Howard’s MVP candidacy. The other side will respond with how another brilliant game from Rose nearly resulted in a loss due the defense, which many say is the real MVP of the Bulls, and what that says about his MVP candidacy. In reality, both of those questions are stupid. It was a great game for Rose, an example of why he’s probably winning MVP, and shows that the Magic have some teeth left in them.

Perhaps most notable in the game was how the Bulls were undone by an effective defense and how the Magic’s ability to create ball movement inside led to cuts. The Bulls’ normally tenacious defense was pretty meek today, allowing cuts inside and Ryan Anderson to be active at the rim. On the flipside, the Magic played solid defense in terms of bringing doubles in the post. This gave Bulls fans a full look at what they’re getting from Carlos Boozer in the playoffs. Boozer was terrific in the first quarter, using a nice array of moves to create points in the post. In the fourth, he was mostly a disaster, including a terrible pass out of a soft double that led to a transition bucket from Jason Richardson.

But all the doubles the Magic brought? None of them were committed to keeping the ball out of Rose’s hands on the perimeter. Time and time again Rose caught a kickout pass with a defender trying to recover, ball faked and went right around the defender. The result was a blistering 39 points, 5 assists performance. Though Rose did have five turnovers to those five assists, he also scored those 39 points on just 17 shots. Crazy efficiency. And that was the difference in the game. Well, that and about .000001 seconds.

Jameer Nelson had a shot to tie the game at the end of regulation. He caught and had to pump fake to free himself from Rose. He rose, and fired from 38 feet, making it. The ball left his hand just a tenth of a second late. Waived off, Bulls win.

A great game that showcased that if these two meet in the second round, this could be tougher than most people are counting on.

Provided that Gilbert Arenas doesn’t get minutes. Yeesh.

Some notes:

  • Chris Duhon actually played really well in limited minutes to keep the Magic in it late. Then Gilbert Arenas came in and, well, yeah.
  • Joakim Noah played terribly in the first quarter and was benched for most of the game. Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau each took turns screaming at Noah early. Strange.
  • Taj Gibson hit a three loooong two. Actually happened.
  • The Magic still needed that player everyone says they need, who can create perimeter penetration to open up lanes. Turkoglu did some, but wasn’t fast enough and the drives wound up bogging down.

Doc Rivers: Clippers might blow up roster if they fall short this season

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin DeAndre Jordan, Doc Rivers
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The Clippers have gone 56-26, 57-25 and 56-26 the last three years – clearing the commonly accepted 55-win bar for championship contention.

But they’ve also won only zero, one and one playoff series in that span.

Zach Lowe of Grantland:

The Clippers have had three cracks at it with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan all in their primes, and they’re not afraid to admit the fourth could be their last — that another flameout will force them to ask whether the core has grown stale.

“We’re right on the borderline,” Doc Rivers tells Grantland during a long sit-down at his office. “I have no problem saying that. I’m a believer that teams can get stale. After a while, you don’t win. It just doesn’t work. We’re right at the edge. Oklahoma City is on the edge. Memphis, too. We just have to accept it.”

I disagree with Rivers.

It’s so hard to assemble a roster that can win a title, and the Clippers absolutely have one. If they fall short this season, they’ll probably still have a title-contending roster the following year. They shouldn’t throw that away just for the sake of change.

Paul (30), Jordan (27) and Griffin (26) are young enough for the Clippers to remain patient.

Rivers makes a good point later in Lowe’s article:

“You need luck in the West,” he says. “Look at Golden State. They didn’t have to play us or the Spurs. But that’s also a lesson for us: When you have a chance to close, you have to do it.”

The Warriors were the NBA’s best team last season, but they also got plenty of breaks. That’s why they won the title.

The Clippers might need more luck to win a championship, but it wouldn’t be an overwhelming amount. The better a team is, the less luck it needs. The Grizzlies can probably win a title with all the right breaks, but they need more than the Clippers.

It’s about being good enough to win with the right breaks.

The Clippers are that. They’ll probably be that unless they do something drastic.

Unless a lopsided trade comes around, I’d stick with Paul, Griffin and Jordan until they really prove they can’t win together. That would take years. A team not winning a title is not proof it can’t win a title. Every year, multiple teams can win a championship. Obviously, only one does.

Rivers has it good with his big three. This shouldn’t be a make-or-break year for them.

51 Q: Which coaches start the year on the hot seat?

Lionel Hollins
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Going into every season, there are a few coaches under pressure to perform or risk losing their jobs. This season, the operative word there is “few.” Looking around the NBA, most coaches are either new on the job or aren’t in any real danger of losing theirs. There are five brand-new coaches: Billy Donovan (Oklahoma City), Fred Hoiberg (Chicago), Alvin Gentry (New Orleans), Michael Malone (Denver) and Scott Skiles (Orlando). The coaches they replaced were mostly the ones whose names often came up in these discussions. Practically everywhere else, there is either a long track record of success or clear signs that ownership is happy with the job the coach is doing. Coaches who are actually on the hot seat are few and far between. But here are a few who might find themselves in trouble if their teams underperform:

Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix Suns): Two years ago, Hornacek was a Coach of the Year candidate for taking a team that was supposed to be one of the league’s very works and making them into almost a playoff team. Last season was another near-miss. This season, the Suns are once again on the bubble of being a playoff team — there’s a chance they could grab the eighth seed in the Western Conference, if a lot goes right. Hornacek deserves a lot of credit for their sooner-than-expected success. The only reason he’s on this list is the potential for a chemistry disaster on this roster. Between Markieff Morris‘ situation and another attempt at a two-point guard lineup (this time with Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight), there’s a lot that could go wrong, and if the Suns fall out of playoff contention. Hornacek could find himself in a little hot water. But that’s unlikely.

Lionel Hollins (Brooklyn Nets): Hollins has always felt like something of a short-term solution in Brooklyn. The Nets tried going young at the head coaching spot with Jason Kidd, who clashed with management over control before leaving for Milwaukee. This Nets roster is middling at best — some solid veterans, not a lot of young talent, no future hope to speak of unless they land a marquee free agent next summer. Their ceiling is the eighth seed and a first-round exit; their floor is a lot worse than that. It would take a catastrophic start to the year for Hollins to lose his job during the season, but there isn’t exactly a lot of long-term security in his position.

Derek Fisher (New York Knicks): It’s hard to see Phil Jackson firing his protege less than two years in, but the Knicks enter the season with the goal of competing for a playoff spot and a lot of potential to be worse than that. Don’t rule out James Dolan stepping in.

Steve Clifford (Charlotte Hornets): Clifford’s chances of losing his job during the season basically disappeared when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went down with a shoulder injury that will likely keep him out the entire season. Without their best perimeter defender, the Hornets’ expectations are a lot lower than they would have been. Now, it’s hard to see them competing seriously for a playoff spot unless Jeremy Lamb makes a huge leap and proves himself capable of being an NBA-caliber starter. If they’re even competitive, it will be an enormous credit to Clifford, who is well-regarded around the league. The story would have been different if they had entered the season with a healthy roster and underperformed, but the MKG injury likely buys Clifford a year before this conversation starts up again.