Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Keith Bogans

How they can win it all: The Chicago Bulls

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Coming into this season, the Heat, The Lakers, and The Celtics were supposed to rule the NBA. After 82 games, the Chicago Bulls are coming into the playoffs with the best record in the league. They don’t have as much championship experience as some of the other top contenders, but they’re talented, young, hungry, and ready to bring a title back to Chicago. Here’s why they can win it all:

1. Defense:

The Chicago Bulls are the best defensive team in the league. They hold teams to 97.3 points per 100 possessions, the best mark in the league. They hold their opponents to the lowest three-point percentage in the league. Only Orlando allows a lower proportion of offensive rebounds. They rank #3 in the league in blocks, steals, and charges taken per 100 possessions. They rarely commit defensive fouls. They are a defensive powerhouse.

The Bulls don’t have one dominant defensive force like Dwight Howard or Kevin Garnett, but they have an absolute defensive mastermind on the sidelines and a plethora of athletic and aggressive defensive players who can execute Thibodeau’s defensive rotations perfectly. They fly around screens. They trap ball-handlers. They close out the three-point line without selling out. They collapse in the paint and load up the strong-side while still being able to recover. They play defense. They love defense. Their 2nd unit is even more dominant defensively than their starting unit. They live to break the wills of their opponents. Any team that wants to get past Chicago is going to have to figure out a way to score on them consistently, and that proved to be a nearly impossible task this season.

2. Derrick Rose

He’s going to win the MVP award. Forget about if he’s the best player in the league for a second and focus on what we definitely know he is. He’s unstoppable when he drives to the basket, he’s an excellent passer and floor general, he can make a momentum-shifting highlight play at the drop of a hat, and he’s become a dangerous three-point shooter. He’s not afraid of the big moment, and he’s fearless in crunch-time, but he knows to pass the ball if that’s the right play. He’s young, he’s a physical specimen, he’s got the skills, he’s going to win the MVP award, and he’s ready to take the final step. Get ready.

3. Depth

Do the Bulls have A Dynamic Duo? A Big Three? A Fantastic Four? Maybe. Rose is definitely a superstar, Joakim Noah is a force on the boards and on defense, and Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng are reliable players who can drop 25 efficient points on any given night. Do they measure up to Boston, Miami, San Antonio’s, or Los Angeles’ top players? It might not matter.

The Bulls may not have as much star power as some other playoff contenders, but they have what every coach and general manager should want his team to have: A 10-man rotation full of players that every coach in the league would want on his roster. Ronnie Brewer makes life hell for his opponents when he plays defense, can finish around the rim, and makes some of the best off-ball cuts in the league. Omer Asik is a defensive dynamo who chases after every loose ball and rebound like his life depends on it.

Kyle Korver is one of the purest shooters in the league and rarely makes a dumb play. Taj Gibson’s length, athleticism, and defensive instincts make him one of the best backup power forwards in the league. C.J. Watson can make open shots, run the offense without incident, and plays textbook-perfect defense on opposing points. Laugh at Keith Bogans all you want, but he knows what his jobs are and he does them well. When Kurt Thomas is asked to do something, he does it. Every one of the Bulls’ players knows what his role is, has confidence in his game, and executes his role to perfection. Having role players that just take up space and role players that know what they need to do to help their team win has decided many a playoff series, and no team has a more capable cast of role players than the Bulls.

The Bulls have the tools to go all the way, and they have the right mentality to do it. They proved just how good they are in the regular season; now they’re just 16 wins away from removing all doubt about their ability to be champions.

LeBron channels Rasheed Wallace after missed free throw: “Ball don’t lie!”

LEBRON
AP
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Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James didn’t agree with a foul he committed against Charlotte Hornets forward Frank Kaminsky on Saturday night, so he summoned up the Ghost of Rasheed Wallace when it came time for Kaminsky to shoot free throws.

Yes, he broke out the ol’ Ball Don’t Lie bit. He even did it in the style of Sheed, yelling it so loud that the parabolic microphones set courtside could pick it up and be heard on television.

Via Twitter:

Classic.

LeBron James scores 44, reaches assist mark as Cavaliers down Hornets

lebron
AP
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CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James scored 17 of his season-high 44 points in the fourth quarter and reached another career milestone as the Cleveland Cavaliers won their fourth straight, 116-105 over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.

James did it all, adding 10 assists and nine rebounds in 43 minutes. He took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 straight during one stretch to help the Cavs hold on.

As the final seconds ticked off, James stood at midcourt and spun the ball on his index finger as the crowd roared.

James, who moved into ninth place on the career scoring list Friday, recorded his 7,000th assist in the first half, becoming the first frontcourt player in NBA history to reach the plateau. James is the only player with 27,000 points and 7,000 assists.

John Wall, Bradley Beal spark Wizards in late run to beat Bucks

John Wall
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WASHINGTON (AP) John Wall had 24 points and 11 assists, Bradley Beal added 20 points, and the Washington Wizards used a late 11-0 run to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 110-105 on Saturday night.

Kelly Oubre, Jr. scored a career-high 19 points for the Wizards, who have won three of four.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with 28 points and 13 rebounds. His two free throws gave the Bucks a 100-95 lead with 4:28 left, but the Wizards rallied while the Bucks went cold.

Wall’s driving layup gave the Wizards a 101-100 lead with 3:03 left. Oubre then got a steal and his dunk at the other end made it 103-100.

Bradley Beal’s driving layup pushed the lead to 105-100 and Wall soon added a free throw.

Mirza Teletovic‘s 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left pulled the Bucks to 108-105, but Beal hit two free throws to seal the win. Teletovic finished with 25 points on 8-for-12 shooting.

Wall scored nine of his points in the fourth quarter.

The Bucks, who committed 20 turnovers, have lost three of four.

Trailing by eight early in the third quarter, the Wizards went on a 16-3 run and led 70-65 before the Bucks answered to make it 77-77 after three.

The first half featured seven lead changes.

Washington trailed by nine after one quarter, but opened the second with a 12-0 run fueled by their reserves and the score was tied 52-52 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Bucks: Milwaukee shot 14 for 23 (60.9 percent) in the first quarter, including 4 for 7 from 3-point range. … Bucks have hit at least 10 3s in each of the last three games. … After scoring 27 points in each of his last two games, Jabari Parker had eight points.

Wizards: It was Wall’s 12th double-double of the season. . Gortat finished with nine points and 14 rebounds. . Wizards have won four of their last five versus the Bucks. . The Wizards have won back-to-back games for just the second time this season. . Markeiff Morris (15 points) and Otto Porter, Jr. (10) were the other Wizards in double figures.

UP NEXT

Bucks: At Toronto on Monday.

Wizards: At Miami on Monday.

Paul George has 37 points to lead Pacers over Blazers 118-111

Indiana Pacers forward Paul George reacts after scoring a basket against the Portland Trail Blazers in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/R Brent Smith)
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Paul George scored a season-high 37 points to lead the Indiana Pacers over the Portland Trail Blazers 118-111 on Saturday night.

George made five 3-pointers, and Thaddeus Young hit six 3s while getting 24 points and nine rebounds. Myles Turner added 14 points for the Pacers, who had lost five straight regular season games to Portland.

C.J. McCollum made a career-high seven 3-pointers and had a season-best 34 points for the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard had 33 points behind five 3s.

George scored 13 straight points in the fourth quarter for Indiana. He was fouled on the go-ahead basket with 4:36 remaining and completed the three-point play to give the Pacers a 108-105 lead.

Indiana didn’t even take its first lead until Al Jefferson was fouled on a basket and made the bonus free throw to put the Pacers ahead for the first time 99-98 with 8:34 left in the fourth quarter. Then McCollum scored seven straight points to give the Trail Blazers the lead again before George took over.

The Pacers trailed by 20 points at one point after Portland didn’t waste much time taking a lead right from the start.

Lillard, who scored 28 points in Portland’s 131-109 win over Indiana on Nov. 30, had a big first quarter with 19 points and five 3-pointers.

He made back-to-back 3s to put the Trail Blazers ahead 26-11 with 5:59 remaining in the first and McCollum’s 3-pointer with 8:09 left in the second quarter gave the Trail Blazers a 58-38 lead.

George made back-to-back 3-pointers with under a minute to go in the first half. His 3 with 25.3 second remaining put the Pacers within seven to trail 71-64 at the half.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Their 44 points in the first quarter were the most Portland has scored in a quarter this season. … Portland finished with 16 3-pointers. … Lillard had nine assists. … Mason Plumlee had eight points and nine rebounds.

Pacers: Jefferson finished with 10 points off the bench. … Monta Ellis had 10 points and five assists.

UP NEXT

Trail Blazers: Monday they travel to Los Angeles to play the Clippers.

Pacers: Monday they host Charlotte and try to snap a four-game losing streak to the Hornets.