Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson

Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Bulls vs. Heat

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SEASON RECORDS
Bulls: 62-20 (No. 1 seed in East)
Heat: 58-24 (No. 2 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Chicago swept the season series 3-0. The most recent game was in early March, it’s safe to say both these teams are a little different right now. Still, a sweep.

PLAYOFF SERIES
Bulls: defeated Indiana Pacers 4-1, defeated Atlanta Hawks 4-2
Heat: defeated Philadelphia 76ers 4-1, defeated Boston Celtics 4-1

SERIES SCHEDULE (times Eastern)

Game 1 – Sun. May 15 at Chicago, 8:00 p.m.
Game 2 – Wed. May 18 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.
Game 3 – Sun. May 22 at Miami, 8:30 p.m.
Game 4 – Tue. May 24 at Miami – 8:30 p.m.
Game 5 * Thu. May 26 at Chicago – 8:30 p.m.
Game 6 * Sat. May 28 at Miami – 8:30 p.m.
Game 7 * Mon. May 30 at Chicago – 8:30 p.m.

Every game broadcast on TNT.

KEY INJURIES
Bulls: Carlos Boozer will play through a case of turf toe, which has slowed him through the playoffs but didn’t seem to bother him in Game 6 in Atlanta.
Heat: Udonis Haslem is back and playing, and while there are some conditioning issues to be worked out the Heat will take all the depth up front they can get.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per possession)
Bulls: Offense 105.4 (12th in NBA); Defense 97.4 (1st in NBA)
Heat: Offense 109.3 (3rd in NBA); Defense: 100.8 (5th in NBA)

THREE KEY BULLS

Derrick Rose: Interesting bit of work over at Teamrankings.com, looking at the percentage of offense Derrick Rose uses when you count in assists, shots, free throws, all of it. In the playoffs, 42.2 percent of Bulls possessions end with Rose making a play when he is on the floor. Only one person — Dwyane Wade in 2006 — has used a higher percentage of his team’s offense in the playoffs (and won a title). Rose is everything to the Bulls. The Heat have two very good defenders to throw at Rose — Wade and Mario Chalmers — and like the Hawks the Heat will trap and do everything they can to get the ball out of his hands. Rose is going to get knocked around. How well he can withstand that and still be efficient will remain the key to the Bulls offense. Also, in the regular season the Heat were good at not fouling Rose, but he needs to get to the line this series.

If Erik Spoelstra decides to use Mike Bibby on Rose, the Heat deserve what they get.

Carlos Boozer: Someone else has to step up and take the scoring pressure off Rose in this series. It should be Boozer, and if he plays like he did in Game 6 it will be. He worked hard off the ball to get to open spaces for a game, his midrange was falling, he needs to do that all of the next series. He will have one of a couple good defenders on him (Joel Anthony or Chris Bosh) but Boozer has to have a good series for the Bulls to have a chance. Luol Deng could easily be substituted in here, the basic rules are the same.

Taj Gibson: Gibson represents the entire Bulls bench — this is one of the biggest advantages the Bulls have, some real depth. The Heat’s bench has been better than advertised and neither the Sixers nor Celtics have taken advantage of it. But the Bulls must. Gibson has to provide a scoring spark off the bench, and the Bulls bench cannot let on the defensive end of the floor.

THREE KEY HEAT

Dwyane Wade: On the defensive end of the floor, he is going to spend time on Rose and he must be physical with the guy at the heart of the Bulls offense. Then, at the other end of the floor, he (and LeBron) needs to be able to penetrate into the paint the way they did against the Celtics. The Bulls will struggle to matchup on Wade one-on-one, but their help defense is much better than the Celtics right now. He has to work off the ball, he has to move the ball to the weak side. He’s going to have to have a monster series.

Chris Bosh: Things are not about to get easier for Bosh — he just had Kevin Garnett on him, now he’s likely to have Joakim Noah (or Joel Anthony, either way a long and active defender). Bosh sets a lot of the screens for the Heat’s pick-and-roll and while Noah is very good at recover to the rolling big man, Bosh needs to make him pay. Bosh needs to be active on the glass at both ends. He was shut down by Kevin Garnett in the Heat’s loss last series, he cannot be shut down this series for the Heat to get through. Also, he will be doing a lot of trapping and spending a lot of time trying to keep Rose out of the paint.

Mario Chalmers: He is the other guy who will spend a lot of the series matched up on Rose. The Heat need to make Rose inefficient, to trap him and get the ball out of his hands — to make someone else on the Bulls beat them. A big part of that will fall to Chalmers, expect him to get a lot more run than Bibby. If we see a lot of Bibby, the Bulls are in trouble in this series.

OUTLOOK

This is the era we live in — last June the Heat had Wade and not much else, the Bulls had Rose and a couple nice role players but were not sure how to get to the next level. Look at them now, meeting for the rights to go to the finals, the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference.

And this is going to be a real battle.

Rose is, without a doubt, amazing. But he is about to run into a defense far more athletic than he has seen in the playoffs. The Hawks had some success getting the ball out of Rose’s hands with traps and doubles, but the Heat have better defenders and a far more consistent commitment to defense than anything the Bulls have run into so far this series. Rose has to still be effective and he has to draw fouls.

The Bulls have to get more and more consistent scoring from other places — Deng and Boozer are logical choices. In the regular season meetings the Bulls hit very well from the midrange (47 percent, up from 39 percent usually). They will need to do that again, plus they need Kyle Korver or someone else to knock down threes.

The other key for the Bulls to score, they need to get offensive rebounds. That is one place they can dominate.

For the Heat, they are about to run into the best defense they have seen this postseason. Their advantage is they essentially just played against it — the Celtics also run the Tom Thibodeau defense. The Bulls run it better right now, but the principles of working off the ball and having Wade, LeBron and Bosh all actively involved together at the same time remain.

One interesting thing to watch will be the Heat’s pick-and-roll — primarily Bosh sets the high screen for the Heat pick-and-roll, but that will bring out one of the best big men defenders in the game to deal with it in Noah. His ability to hedge out and disrupt the ball handler then recover to the rolling big man is as good as anybody in the league. If he can slow a key Heat play, it will give the Bulls a big advantage.

PREDICTION

This is going to be one hard-fought series. One very entertaining series. A must watch series if you are a basketball fan. Not high scoring, but great to watch. In the end, the Heat’s defense will be more disruptive and able to slow the Bulls offense enough to pull out the wins. The Bulls will certainly slow the Heat down, but their big three they will still get some key transition points (generated by the defense) and make the midrange shots they missed in the regular season. That will be enough.

Heat in 6.

Paul Pierce says he’ll retire after season

Paul Pierce
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Clippers forward Paul Pierce has ended the maybe/probably/maybe/probably/maybe saga of whether he’ll play next year.

Pierce in The Players Tribune:

This is it, my final season.

It’s time to move on from the game of basketball.

Just like any difficult decision, I think you’ve got to be at peace with yourself. I’m at peace with retiring, but I’ve got one more ride left. One more season. One more opportunity.

Pierce has had an incredible career, one that will surely vault him into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

He started in Boston, where he was the Celtics’ go-to player and his most reliable sidekick was Antoine Walker – and then Pierce didn’t have even Walker. Seemingly destined to be forgotten as a good player on a mediocre team, Pierce received a legacy boost when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived. The Celtics won the 2008 title, and Pierce earned Finals MVP.

After a few more years of Pierce proving he could excel individually and help a team contend, he went to Brooklyn, where the Nets gave him a late-career spark by using him at power forward. He added a stop in Washington, where he made a few clutch shots for the Wizards. Now, he ends his career reunited with Doc Rivers in Los Angeles.

Pierce doesn’t need to add more to his all-time résumé – and he probably won’t. Only Dirk Nowitzki has played more games among active players than Pierce, who turns 39 in a few weeks. The mileage shows. Pierce has declined considerably, and he’s likely in store for a minor role this season.

But on limited minutes, maybe he can still provide a spark on occasion. The Clippers have at least a fighting chance of making Pierce part of another meaningful playoff run.

After that, would he go back to the Celtics on a ceremonial contract to retire? That’s what Rivers wants. Before it reaches that point, there will be plenty of pomp for Pierce, who just set himself up for a grand retirement tour.

 

Timberwolves confirm that Nikola Pekovic out for entire season

Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14), of Montenegro, yawns during NBA basketball media day in Minneapolis, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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Timberwolves’ owner Glen Taylor said this exact thing last week, which is a pretty good sign that it’s going to happen. Taylor writes the checks.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have confirmed that Nikola Pekovic — who played 12 games last season due to foot injuries — is out for the coming season.

Taylor mentioned buying out Pekovic, but that seems unlikely. Pekovic is owed $23.7 million over the next two seasons, and I’d be hard-pressed to think of a reason he would take a penny less. The more likely outcome is the Timberwolves waive him and then come January (one year after his last game) apply to the league to have his salary excluded. (This would require a doctor approved by both the league and players’ union say that he is physically unable to play in the NBA ever again. If the doctor said that Pekovic would still get paid, but the money would not count against the salary cap for the Timberwolves).

No Pekovic and no Kevin Garnett, but it doesn’t impact the Timberwolves as training camp opens. Minnesota has Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill up front, plus developing young players Nemanja Bjelica and Adreian Payne. Garnett and Pekovic were not going to play much anyway.

Dwyane Wade ready for his Chicago challenge

Chicago Bulls player Dwyane Wade speaks during a news conference Friday, July 29, 2016, in Chicago. Wade who played at Miami Heat for 13 years, joined his hometown team for a two-year contract worth about $47 million. (AP Photo/Tae-Gyun Kim)
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MIAMI (AP) — It’s not like Dwyane Wade has never dealt with change before.

He played for three head coaches in 13 seasons with the Miami Heat, helped orchestrate one of the most scrutinized free-agent hauls in NBA history when LeBron James and Chris Bosh came to play alongside him, and had 112 teammates along the way.

So going into a new locker room doesn’t figure to overwhelm him.

Wade’s first official day of work with an NBA team other than Miami comes on Monday, when he goes to media day on the eve of his first training camp with the Chicago Bulls – the team he grew up rooting for, a club he has faced off against 64 times as an opponent and now the franchise he’ll be asked to help lead.

“It’s going to be difficult, 100 percent. I’m fine with it, though,” Wade said in an interview with The Associated Press. “For me, it goes back to the whole challenge thing. It’s not like I haven’t done this before. At the end of the day we’re all wearing the same jersey right now and we have to come together, just like any team. And that’s going to be tough.”

Wade left Miami this summer in a move that shocked the Heat. He took a two-year deal worth about $47 million from the Bulls, who came in offering a bit more than what the Heat were able to promise. He leaves Miami has one of two players who were on all three Heat championship teams – Udonis Haslem is the other – and as the franchise leader in points by an enormous margin.

But now he changes addresses, changes colors and in many ways is starting over. So are the Heat, who won’t have him and will go into the season without Bosh – still sidelined by the blood-clot problem that ended each of his last two seasons, an issue that now seems to be putting any plans he has for a return to the court in major jeopardy.

Wade said he still wants the very best for Bosh. He’ll just have to send those wishes from afar now, while he gets ready to embrace his own challenge of meshing with Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and the rest of the Bulls.

“When I don’t have anything else left to prove, then I don’t need to play the game of basketball,” Wade said. “I want to prove I’m out of my comfort zone. I’m in a totally different environment, a totally different system. This is a challenge for me, at this stage of my career. Leave it up to me to put myself in a challenge and not just fade to black in the comfortableness of Miami.”

Wade turns 35 in January, and answered plenty of questions about his supposed durability issues last year. He played in 74 games for Miami, got lighter and leaner to take pressure off his knees and hamstrings, averaged 19 points a game and was an All-Star for the 12th consecutive season.

He’s not the Wade who led the league in scoring in 2009, or was NBA Finals MVP in 2006.

He does, however, think he’s smarter than ever.

“There’s no risk for me,” Wade said. “It’s basketball. It’s just a sport, man. And I’m pretty good at it. I know the game and I’ve put in so much work in this sport, everything right now is just the cherry on top of the whipped cream.”

Nerlens Noel calls Sixers crowded center situation “silly,” adds it “doesn’t make sense”

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Jahlil Okafor #8 and Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers play in the game against the Utah Jazz on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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He’s right. And Philadelphia management knows it.

At the center position, the Sixers have the athletic and defensive minded Nerlens Noel, the offensive-minded Jahlil Okafor, and the untested player who may be the best of the group in Joel Embiid. Elton Brand is on the roster as well.

That’s a lot of talented young players and not enough minutes to go around. Nerlens Noel called the situation out as “silly” speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Keith Pompey. At least he didn’t go so far as to request a trade.

“I think it’s just silly . . . this situation that we are in now with three starting centers,” Noel said on the eve of the Sixers’ media day. “With the departure of [former general manager and president] Sam Hinkie, I would have figured that management would be able to get something done this summer…

“I feel like it definitely needs to be figured out,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, again, you have three starting-caliber centers. And it’s just not going to work to anybody’s advantage having that on the same team. That’s how I’m looking at it. I’m not opposed to anything, but things need to be situated….

“Don’t get me wrong. We all get along great on the court and off the court,” Noel said. “But at the end of the day, it’s like having three starting quarterbacks. It doesn’t make any sense.”

The Sixers wouldn’t officially comment, but this summer they did try to get something done — Okafor and Noel were on the trade block. The problem is all the offers that came in were low ball. GM Bryan Colangelo has said he didn’t want to go into the season with this situation at center, but he also wasn’t going to give away one of these three for pennies on the dollar. Colangelo wanted a fair deal.
We saw last season that Okafor and Noel can’t play together, and now the Sixers need to see which ones of these three can play well with No. 1 pick Ben Simmons, who will be a point-forward much of the time.
Expect a deal to get done to move one of the three centers — and it very well could be Noel, he drew the most interest from other teams. It could happen during training camp, or maybe closer to the trade deadline. Maybe this stretches into next season.
But the Sixers know this doesn’t make sense, they just haven’t been able to remedy the situation. Yet.