NBA Playoffs: Heat vs. Bulls Game 1 all about defense

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There will be spectacular plays because this series features three of the most dynamic players in the league. Derrick Rose will break somebody’s ankle with a crossover, LeBron James will destroy someone in the open court. Bank on it.

But highlights will not win this series. Defense will. That starts with Game 1 Sunday night (played Sunday not Monday because Oprah needs the building, and what Oprah wants in Chicago Oprah gets).

The Bulls have the deserved reputation on defense, they had the very best defense in the NBA this past season. But the Heat were fifth, and they are especially well equipped to handle Derrick Rose. As much as anyone is equipped to handle Rose.

Miami has said they will start with Mike Bibby on Rose. That should last about two possessions. Dwyane Wade will get a lot of time on him, spelled off the bench by Mario Chalmers. Plus, LeBron will be on him at times, too. All of them will be physical with Rose (especially if the referees let them play a little).

Look for the Heat to trap Rose as he comes off the pick-and-roll — that is Miami’s standard move and in this series they really want to get the ball out of Rose’s hands to make someone else beat them. Rose has been dealing with this better through the playoffs, but the Heat will be aggressive with their traps. And they have the athletes to do it.

At the other end Joakim Noah will be key because if Bosh gets going the Heat will be impossible to keep from scoring. Matt already covered this — whichever power forward gets going in this series will give his team a big boost.

But look for the Heat to keep Bosh out on the perimeter at times, then run some weak-side action to free guys up at the same time. Essentially, pull Noah away from the basket then have guys cutting to the basket for passes. Because Carlos Boozer does not fiercely defend the rim.

This brings us to one key for the Heat this series — they just played a series against this defense. The Boston Celtics still run the Tom Thibodeau defense he put in as an assistant. The Bulls system is the same and while they are running it better than Boston the Heat have seen this for the last five games. They have studied the film, they understand the actions. This is a big plus for Miami, there is no wheel to reinvent.

Look for the Heat to run a lot of baseline cuts from the weakside, something they had success with last series.

Noah is part of one other big key for the Bulls — they need easy second chance points off offensive rebounds.

Whichever team can get the more easy buckets in Game 1 and through the series will have an advantage. For the Heat, that means create turnovers and get Wade and James out in transition.

This is going to be a knock down, drag out series and this is just Game 1. But expect Game 1 to be a good one.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.

Celtics to retire Paul Pierce’s number after Cavaliers game in February

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The Celtics already said they’d retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34.

Now, we know when.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics announced today that they will retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34 after a mid-season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, Feb. 11

After? That’s apparently in response to a new rule that penalizes teams not ready to play after a 15-minute halftime. These ceremonies can drag on, and nobody wants to cut Pierce short. I wonder whether this will start a trend of number retirements coming after games.

DeMarcus Cousins on Confederate statues: ‘Take all them motherf—ers down’

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DeMarcus Cousins grew up in Alabama, played collegiately at Kentucky and now plays in New Orleans.

So, yeah, the Pelicans star has an opinion on Confederate statues.

Cousins, via TMZ:

“Take all them motherf*ckers down,” Cousins said … “Take ’em all down.”

These statues glorify people because they fought a war against the United States in the name of preserving the racist institution of slavery.

Not whom I want to honor, either.

Kevin Durant: Kyrie Irving-LeBron James situation ‘just a regular NBA problem’

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Kevin Durant knows something about star teammates not always getting along.

So, the Warriors forward is not freaking out about the disconnect between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James and Irving’s subsequent trade request.

Durant, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“It’s just a regular NBA problem, right? A lot of teams have gone through this before,” Durant told ESPN. “They’ll figure it out. That’s a great organization, a championship organization. They’ll figure it out.”

“It’s not the end of the world,” Durant said. “Both of those guys won a championship together. They love each other. If Kyrie wants to do something else, that’s on him. I’m sure whatever happens, it’ll work out for the best for both of them. But it’s just a normal NBA problem. It’s just two big stars that it’s happening to.”

Durant is definitely right in the larger sense. Teammates spat and requests trades more often than we realize. Remember, both Irving and the Cavaliers probably prefer this never became public.

But I’m not sure Cleveland will figure this out with the ease Durant suggests. David Griffin, who had proven so adept at putting out these fires, is gone. LeBron’s free agency looms. This could be extremely destructive to the Cavs.

The fact that this “regular NBA problem” became public only intensifies it – and raises it something greater.