Josh McRoberts, Derrick Rose

NBA Playoff Preview: Chicago vs. Indiana

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SEASON RECORDS
Bulls: 62-20 (No. 1 seed in East)
Pacers: 37-45 (No. 8 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Bulls 3-1, with the Pacers winning the most recent when Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough just took over.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Bulls: Off. 105.4 (12th in NBA); Def. 97.4 (1st in NBA)
Pacers: Off. 101.8 (23rd in NBA)’ Def. 103.5 (12th in NBA)

THREE KEY BULLS:

Derrick Rose: The soon-to-be MVP is pretty much everything to the Bulls offense — he is the guy they run off screens to get shots, he is the guy they give the ball to in isolation. What will be interesting in this series, and particularly as the playoffs move on, is how the Bulls adjust when teams make it a priority to get the ball out of Rose’s hands.

Luol Deng: He is key in two ways: 1) He will get the defensive matchups on Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy Jr., the two guys the Bulls will key on stopping; 2) He is the difference between the Bulls having an average offense and a good one. Rose will get his, as will Carlos Boozer most nights, but when Deng gets going with them the Bulls offense is infinitely harder to stop.

Taj Gibson: The Bulls depth — and the ability of that depth to control Mike Dunleavy and Josh McRoberts off the Pacers bench — will be one of their keys in this series. Gibson (or whoever the Pacers put on Dunleavy) needs to make him work on defense as well. Which means attack the rim, when Gibson spots up he is far less dangerous. He needs to use his athleticism and attack.

THREE KEY PACERS

Danny Granger: Indiana has got to find a way to score on the Bulls stout defense, and Granger is the guy most capable of creating his own shot and knocking it down. His game has taken a step back this season — he is not shooting at as high a percentage, he is turning over the ball more — but simply put he must have a monster series for the Pacers to have any chance.

Darren Collison: No one man can stop Derrick Rose, it takes a team effort. But Collison is the first line of defense. He has to guide Rose to help, he has to create turnovers and make life hard for Rose, and when the Pacers decide to trap or take other steps to get the ball out of Rose’s hands, he cannot let Rose just split the double and waltz inside. The other key for Collison — holding on to the ball. Collison can be a turnover machine, particularly when he is handling the ball on the pick-and-roll. The Bulls are one of the best pick-and-roll defending teams in the league. If he turns the ball over and the Bulls get easy points in transition, the Pacers will not be able to keep up.

Mike Dunleavy Jr.: The Pacers take a lot of jump shots and Dunleavy is their best guy curling off screens and on catch-and-shoots — the things the Bulls are going to make very hard but the Pacers have to execute to have a chance. He has to get looks and he is going to have to knock down some contested shots for the Pacers to have any chance. And he should put the ball on the floor too (which he is better at than people think, he’s got a pretty rounded game).

OUTLOOK

The Bulls are the league’s best defensive team; the Pacers are a pretty good defensive team. So rule one, bet the under. The key here is the Pacers are not a good offensive team either and what strengths they do have play right into the hands of the Bulls defense. That showed in the regular season meetings when the Pacers mostly struggled to score.

Indiana likes to run guys off screens, have them pop out to open spaces for quick shots or to get room to attack — you can bet the Bulls will bump guys off those lines in this series. Chicago will grind it out, take Pacers players off their preferred lines. Also, the Bulls close out hard on shooters, taking away clean looks. Indiana needs to find a way to get some easy buckets.

The best way to attack the Bulls is to get out in transition — the Bulls are not a great transition defense team. Once you let them get set in the half court they are a wall. Problem is, Pacers do not like to get out and run, and they’re not good at it when they do.

On the other end of the floor, the Bulls are going to do what they do, which is run Rose off a series of screens and put him in isolation and get enough points. The Pacers will have some success slowing this, they are a good defensive squad. But will it matter?

Indiana did beat the Bulls once this past season — the Bulls had one of their worst interior defensive games of the season and Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert combined for 44 and 19. Want to bet on them being able to do that four times in seven games?

PREDICTION

The Pacers just do not have the offensive firepower to hang in this series. It’s going to be a low scoring series. Also expect some ugly games. But the Bulls are the better grinders.

Bulls sweep, 4-0.

Gregg Popovich on coaching carousel: “I feel for every coach that’s ever been fired”

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 09: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs looks on during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on February 9, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — There has never been as much intrigue or confusion surrounding the All-Star coaches in both conferences. Steve Kerr is ineligible to coach the Western Conference, given that he coached them last year, but since he was officially credited with the wins that Luke Walton accrued while he was recovering from back surgery, Walton wasn’t eligible either. So that led to the selection of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who was second in line.

Out east, the Cavaliers received the honor of having their head coach make the trip to Toronto…but they let David Blatt go while they were in first place in the conference, meaning his midseason replacement, Tyronn Lue, gets to coach the team.

Popovich was as confused as anyone about all of this, especially Blatt’s firing.

“I feel for every coach that’s ever been fired, including David,” Popovich said Friday morning at All-Star media day. “He’s a great coach. But usually people are fired for circumstances that are beyond their control, and it usually has nothing to do with whether they’re a good coach or not. I find that to be the case almost all the time. But as far as judging an organization, I’ll leave that to you guys.”

Blatt wasn’t the first coach to be fired during the 2015-16 season, and he isn’t the last, either. As we enter the All-Star break, five teams have fired coaches in-season: the Cavaliers, Rockets (Kevin McHale), Nets (Lionel Hollins), Suns (Jeff Hornacek) and Knicks (Derek Fisher).

The coaching ranks are fiercely loyal to their own, none more so than Popovich, who is the longest tenured coach in the league. Needless to say, he isn’t a fan of the shorter leash that coaches are getting.

“We all know getting into this what the volatile aspects of the job are,” Popovich said. “But being humans you still hope for fairness and that sort of thing. But the bottom line is most firings have nothing to do with the ability of the coach, and that’s the same.”

On Lue’s end, he recognizes the awkwardness of the situation that Blatt’s dismissal put him in, and has nothing but praise for his predecessor.

“Me and Coach Blatt have a great relationship,” Lue said. “He did a great job. We went to the NBA Finals together, and he’s put us in this position to be number one, close to the All-Star Game. So I think Coach Blatt definitely deserves a job in this league.”

Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson headline Basketball Hall of Fame finalists

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 06:  Former NBA player Shaquille O'Neal attends Fanatics Super Bowl Party on February 6, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by C Flanigan/Getty Images)
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TORONTO —  The 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame class is shaping up to be star-studded with Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming.

But today’s announcement – which named Shaq and Iverson as finalists – omitted Yao, who was nominated through the international committee. That didn’t stop Yao and Shaq from taking jabs at each other during the announcement ceremony.

“I feel very excited and very honored to be nominated,” Yao said, then mentioned Shaq and added, “I’m just worried when we stand on the podium together, can it handle our weight?”

And Yao Ming, he used to travel all the time when he’d shoot that fadeaway,” Shaq countered later.

Some Hall of Famers were already on the stage — Isiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, Oscar Robertson, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Spencer Haywood, and Bill Russell among others — and both Iverson and Shaq acknowledged the trail those guys blazed for the players to follow.

“I want to thank all the guys on the stage, except Rick Barry,” Shaq joked. “He came to LSU and wanted me to shoot free throws underhanded. I can’t do it. I’d rather shoot zero percent than shoot free throws underhanded… And Dick Bavetta, I don’t like you either, you gave me 10 technicals and threw me out of the game twice.”

No matter the nomination process, I still expect Yao to make it, but in a departure of previous procedure, his enshrinement wasn’t announced today.

Who would join him?

Here are the four NBA finalists, via the Hall’s release:

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL [Player] – A four-time NBA Champion (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006), O’Neal played 19 years in the NBA averaging 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.  A 15-time NBA All-Star (1993-98, 2000-07, 2009), O’Neal led the league in field goal percentage for 10 seasons (1994, 1998-2002, 2004-06, 2009) and ranks seventh on the NBA All-Time scoring list. He was named NBA MVP (2000), NBA Finals MVP three times (2000-02) and NBA Rookie of the Year (1993). At Louisiana State University (1989-92), O’Neal led the country in rebounding (1991) and blocked shots (1992) while earning unanimous First-Team All America honors (1991-92). O’Neal is an Olympic gold medalist (1996) and a member of the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.

ALLEN IVERSON [Player] – A nine-time NBA All-Star (2000-06, 2008, 2009), Iverson played 14 NBA seasons averaging 26.7 points and 6.2 assists per game. A three-time All-NBA First Team selection (1999, 2001, 2005), he led the league in scoring average four times (1999, 2001, 2002, 2005), steals per game three times (2001-03) and minutes per game seven times (1999, 2001-04, 2006-08). Iverson was named NBA Rookie of the Year in 1997 and NBA MVP in 2001. The Hampton, Virginia native attended Georgetown University (1994-1996) where he set the school record for career scoring average and earned consensus First Team All-America honors (1996).

KEVIN JOHNSON [Player] – After playing for University of California Berkley from 1983-1987, Johnson played12 years in the NBA and holds the NBA Finals single-game record for most minutes played with 62.  Johnson is the first player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 10 assists, a .500 field goal percentage and two steals per game for an entire season.  In 1989, he earned the NBA Most Improved Player award. The three-time NBA All-Star (1990, 1991, 1994) is also an All-NBA Second Team member (1989, 1990, 1991, 1994). Now the mayor of his hometown of Sacramento, CA, Johnson was a major advocate of keeping the Sacramento Kings NBA team in the city when it was at high risk of moving.

DARELL GARRETSON [Referee] – Garettson, a native of Long Point, IL, served as an NBA official for 27 years, officiating 1,798 regular season games, 269 playoff games, 41 Finals games and five All-Star games. He was instrumental in organizing and heading the first union for referees, the National Association of Basketball Referees. He is widely considered the individual who shaped modern basketball officiating with a three-person crew and a focus on “refereeing the defense”. He served as NBA Chief of Officiating Staff and Director of Officials (1981-98) and is the only person to have served as a staff referee and Chief of Staff simultaneously.

Shaq and Iverson are locks. Johnson’s inclusion makes me more uneasy than anything. No offense to Garretson, but the Hall of Fame features too many referees already.

The other finalists:

TOM IZZO [Coach] – A native of Iron Mountain, Michigan, Izzo has led Mighican State to seven NCAA Final Four appearances (1999-01, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015). With 18 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament, his team won the NCAA National Championship in 2000. Izzo has coached Michigan State to seven Big Ten regular season championships (1998-2001, 2009, 2010, 2012), four Big Ten Tournament championships (1999, 2000, 2012, 2014), and 13 Sweet Sixteen appearances. He was named Big Ten Coach of the Year three times (1998, 2009, 2012), NABC Coach of the Year twice (2001, 2012), Clair Bee Coach of the Year (2005) and Associated Press National Coach of the Year (1998).

BO RYAN [Coach] – A native of Chester, Pennsylvania, Ryan has been named the Big Ten Coach of the Year four times (2002, 2003, 2013, 2015) while coaching at University of Wisconsin. Prior to Wisconsin, he coached at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (1999-2000) and University of Wisconsin-Platteville (1984-1999) where his team won four NCAA Division III Championships (1991, 1995, 1998, 1999). Ryan led Wisconsin to four Big Ten regular season championships (2002, 2003, 2008, 2015), three Big Ten Tournament championships (2004, 2008, 2015), and the NCAA Final Four twice (2014, 2015). Ryan is a recipient of the Clair Bee Coach of the Year Award (2007), NABC Outstanding Service Award (2009) and Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award (2013).

EDDIE SUTTON [Coach] – The four-time National Coach of the Year (1977, 1978, 1986, 1995) and eight-time Conference Coach of the Year (1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1986, 1993, 1998, 2004) is the first coach in NCAA history to lead four different schools in the NCAA Tournament. Sutton currently ranks seventh among Division I coaches in all-time victories and has recorded only one losing season in 37 years of coaching. He coached Oklahoma State University from 1991-2006 and tied the conference record for wins by a first-year coach with 24. Sutton guided his teams to three Final Fours, six Elite Eights and 12 Sweet Sixteen appearances.

CHARLES “LEFTY’ DRIESELL [Coach] – A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Driesell is the only coach in NCAA history to win 100 games at four different schools and just one of four coaches to lead four schools to the NCAA Tournament. He is the only coach in NCAA history to be named Conference Coach of the Year in four different conferences. He currently ranks eighth among Division I coaches in all-time victories with an overall coaching record of 786-394 (.666). He received the NCAA Award of Valor in 1974 after saving children from a house fire and was inducted in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

JOHN MCLENDON [Coach] – A native of Hiawatha, Kansas, McLendon was the first coach to win three consecutive national championships, leading Tennessee State to NAIA National Championships in 1957, 1958 and 1959. He compiled a collegiate coaching record of 522-165 (.760) and was named NAIA Coach of the Year in 1958. He was the first African-American coach to accomplish many feats including winning a national tournament (1954), winning a national championship (1957) and winning an AAU national championship (1961). He was the first African-American coach to coach in a professional league, the ABA. Already enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a “Contributor,” he is now named a finalist by the North American Committee as a coach.

ROBERT HUGHES [Coach] – Hughes coached high school basketball in Texas for 47 years during periods of both segregation and integration – for which he was a great advocate. He ranks first on the all-time wins list for boy’s high school coaches and has compiled an overall high school coaching record of 1,333-247 (.844), leading his teams to 35 district championships and five state championships. He served as head coach of the McDonald’s All-American Game West team (2001). He was named the NHSCA National High School Coach of the Year (2003) and recipient of the Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award (2010). He has been inducted into the Texas Basketball Hall of Fame (1993) and High School Basketball Hall of Fame (2003).

LETA ANDREWS [Coach] – Andrews has coached high school basketball for over 50 years and is the all-time winningest high school coach, male or female. She has coached five high schools in Texas since 1962 and has led them to 16 state Final Four appearances, plus a state championship in 1990. Andrews also served as Head Coach of the McDonald’s All-American Game West team (2004). She was named the NHSCA National High School Coach of the Year (2007) and recipient of the Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award (2007). She has been inducted into the High School Basketball Hall of Fame (1995) and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (2010).

MUFFET MCGRAW [Coach] – McGraw is a three-time Consensus National College Coach of the Year (2001, 2013, 2014) and five-time Conference Coach of the Year (1983,1988, 1991, 2001, 2013). As the coach of Notre Dame women’s basketball since 1987, she ranks seventh on the active coaches win list. She has led Notre Dame to 22 trips to the NCAA Tournament, including 13 NCAA Sweet Sixteens, seven NCAA Elite Eights and seven NCAA Final Fours (1997, 2001, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) with one National Championship in 2001. In 2001, 2013 and 2014 she was named the Naismith Coach of the Year, Associated Press College Basketball Coach of the Year, WBCA National Coach of the Year and USBWA National Coach of the Year.

SHERYL SWOOPES [Player] – A six-time WNBA All-Star (1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006), Swoopes played 12 WNBA seasons averaging 15 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. A five-time All-WNBA First Team selection (1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005), she was also named Defensive Player of the Year three times (2000, 2002, 2003) and WNBA MVP three times (2000, 2002, 2005). As a member of the Houston Comets, Swoopes won four WNBA Championships (1997-2000). While setting an NCCA championship record for points scored with 47, the Brownfield, Texas native won an NCAA Championship with Texas Tech (1993). Swoopes is a three-time Olympic gold medalist (1996, 2000, 2004) and a member of the WNBA All-Decade Team.

WAYLAND BAPTIST UNIVERSITY [Team] – Coached by Hall of Fame nominee Harley Redin, the Wayland Baptist University women’s basketball team won 131 consecutive games from 1953-58 and 10 AAU National Championships overall (1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1975).  Rosters included exceptional players such as Marsha Sharp, a three-time AAU All-American Patsy Neal, two-time FIBA World Championships gold medalist Katherine Washington, co-captain of the 1980 United States Olympic team Jill Rankin, and AAU national tournament MVP Lometa Odom. Coach Redin and team sponsor Claude Hucherson, as well as five players have been enshrined in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. The team as a whole was recognized as Trailblazers of the Game in 2013.

Kurt Helin contributed to this story from Toronto.

Report: Andrew Wiggins vexes Timberwolves by skipping weightlift sessions

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins, right, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 119-115. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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The Timberwolves suffered through a miserable 16-win season last year with a teenage shooting guard running point for them.

Their reward?

The teen, Zach LaVine, picked up valuable ball-handling and distributing experience that should serve him well. Andrew Wiggins, who won Rookie of the Year, spent significant time at shooting guard without having to battle more physically developed forwards. And – best of all – Minnesota lost enough to land the No. 1 pick in the draft, Karl-Anthony Towns.

This team looks primed for a bright future with LaVine at shooting guard, Wiggins at small forward and Towns at center. The Timberwolves must still determine whether they want to ride with Ricky Rubio at point guard and find a power forward, but they’re well on their way.

There is a hitch in the plan, though

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

One of the keys to Minnesota’s future success is for Wiggins, 20, to be strong enough to be a full-time small forward and open up the shooting-guard position for LaVine, also 20. Team insiders, though, lament how many weightlifting sessions Wiggins skips, and the supposedly slim-fit, sleeved jerseys the Wolves love to wear show the ample room to grow in his arms.

I think this assessment underrates Wiggins strength. He certainly has more room to fill out, but it’s not as if he’s some weakling out there.

Wiggins even uses his strength to his advantage in clear ways. He ranks in the 96th percentile when defending a post-up that ends a play. His 7.2 free-attempts per game rank eighth in the NBA.

That’s not because he’s a crafty veteran with a bag of tricks. It’s because he’s reasonably strong.

That said, the Timberwolves aren’t necessarily wrong for being dismayed with Wiggins. If he’s skipping weightlifting sessions – especially in Minnesota emphasized them to increase his viability with LaVine – that’s problematic. LaVine, who’s coming off the bench, should be especially perturbed.

These are the types of issues that come up with young teams trying to make the next step. Some figure it out. Some just move past the noise.

I don’t know how the Timberwolves will handle this, but – with Wiggins, LaVine and Towns – they have potential to be special if they figure it out.

Report: Pistons retiring Richard Hamilton’s number

AUBURN HILLS, MI - JUNE 16:  Richard Hamilton #32 celebrates after Linsey Hunter #10 of the Detroit Pistons scored in the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in Game four of the 2005 NBA Finals at The Palace of Auburn Hills on June 16, 2005 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The Pistons defeated the Spurs 102-71.  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 Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
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The Pistons retired Ben Wallace’s number last month and Chauncey Billups’ this week.

They’ll soon be joined in the Palace rafters by another from the 2004 championship team – Richard Hamilton’s No. 32.

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

No date has been set but Richard Hamilton will be the next Piston from the 2004 NBA championship team to have his jersey retired, No. 32, according to a person with firsthand knowledge of the organization’s thinking.

I would’ve retired Ben’s and Billups’ number and left it at that from the 2004 team. Despite the myth of a perfectly balanced starting unit, those two were a cut above the rest – Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace.

Perhaps unfairly, Ben and Billups also get credit for exiting Detroit on better terms. They were the first starters to go, so fans don’t associate them with the team’s decline. Plus, both returned to finish their careers with the Pistons.

Hamilton, on the other hand, became whiny as a contract extension locked him into a team that didn’t win as much as he wanted (but paid him more than he was worth). It got so ugly, Detroit bought him out, eating a substantial portion of his salary.

The good far outweighed the bad, though. Hamilton led the Pistons in scoring every season between 2003 and 2010. He provided a seemingly endless supply of energy, running around screen after screen away from the ball. His scoring with then-Ron Artest guarding him during the 2004 Eastern Conference finals – a defensive slugfest at its best – was instrumental in putting Detroit over the top.

This probably opens the door for Rasheed and Prince getting their numbers retired, too.

As someone who grew up in Michigan and cheered those Pistons, I’m not at all upset with this decision. Hamilton is a reasonable choice for number retirement, as are Sheed and Prince.

I just wouldn’t done it if I were in charge.