Miami Heat v Chicago Bulls - Game Five

What the Bulls should do when the lockout ends

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The Bulls were one of the NBA”s best success stories last season. Nobody saw them as serious contenders coming into the year, but first-year head coach and defensive guru turned the Bulls into the league’s best defensive team, the Bulls’ bench mob made them perhaps the deepest team in the league, and Derrick Rose became the youngest MVP award winner in the history of the league. The Bulls finished with the NBA’s best regular-season record, and while they only managed to take one game off of the Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, they clearly gave LeBron, Wade and co. all they could handle.

Now the Bulls have to make the leap from title contender to champion, which is even tougher than the leap from good team to title contender. Here are some ways they could do it:

1. Add some versatility to the offense

This was a point that came up over and over again  when the Bulls had trouble scoring during the playoffs, but the Bulls were never a great offensive team at any point last season. The Bulls finished 12th in offensive efficiency during the regular season, and were 8th out of the 16 playoff teams in post-season offensive efficiency. The Bulls’ plan was to grind teams down with their defense and depth, keep games close, and let Derrick Rose take over late in games. It worked until it didn’t — when Rose got locked down in the fourth quarter by LeBron James a few times in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls had no answers, and their fourth-quarter performances ultimately cost them the series.

Rose has room for improvement as an offensive player, especially from the perimeter. Early in the year, Rose’s improved jump shot was a big storyline, but eventually Rose’s jumper went back to being a weakness — Rose shot a career-low 38% on long twos last season, and while he made huge leaps as a three-point shooter, he still only made less than a third of his shots from beyond the arc. In the postseason, his jumper completely abandoned him, and he shot just 39.6% from the field and 24.8% from deep in the playoffs.

The Bulls and Rose need to find ways to generate offense when Rose isn’t able to get into the paint and convert at will if they want to win a championship in the next few years.

2. Plan for the postseason

Derrick Rose took home the MVP trophy, but Chicago’s group of defensive minded super-subs like C.J. Watson, Omer Asik, and even Kurt Thomas were just as important to Chicago’s regular-season success as Rose was.

However, when the rotations tightened for the playoffs, Chicago’s depth stopped being the asset it was in the regular season, and Watson, Asik, and Thomas barely saw the floor. From the day the season starts, whenever that might be, the Bulls have to start planning for teams like the Celtics and the Heat instead of trying to figure out a post-season rotation on the fly — playoff basketball is very different from regular-season basketball because of how much more important individual matchups become and how many more minutes the best players play, and the Bulls have to keep that in mind all season long.

3. Don’t forget what made you a contender

The Bulls had the best record in the regular season because they played a tougher, more swarming brand of defense than any other team in the league, outworked their opponents, and generally broke whatever team they played on a given night. They played like a team with something to prove all year long. If they rest on the laurels of their success last season, they could lose what made them so good — the fact that they played every game like a Game 7. If the Bulls stay hungry, they should be able to capture one of the top two spots in the East again. If they can then find new sources of offense and settle on a true playoff rotation, they could easily bring the NBA Finals trophy back to Chicago.

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

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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

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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.

Stephen Curry says the Warriors “sucked” but his Christmas light necklace is cool (VIDEO)

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Stephen Curry had one message after the Golden State Warriors lost to the Memphis Grizzlies, 110-89, on Saturday night.

Well, maybe he had two.

  1. “We sucked tonight.”
  2. Check out this sweet Christmas light necklace.

I’ll show you what I mean.

Via Twitter:

That’s a pretty sweet postgame fashion choice, even while the Warriors had an abysmal 88.5 offensive rating in the loss and Curry himself scored just 17 points on 4-of-15 shooting, including 3-of-11 from deep.

Memphis found a way to stifle Curry all night, including forcing him into airballs and rejecting his attempts at the rim with thunderous blocks.

Golden State was without center Zaza Pachulia, who missed the game with a right wrist injury. Anderson Varejao started in his place, but there wasn’t a Warriors starter who finished the game with a positive +/- despite Memphis playing somewhat pedestrian.

Cool necklace, bummer for Golden State fans as the team drops to 20-4. That makes them, uh, well still No. 1 in the Western Conference I guess. No need to panic in the middle of a road trip that ends with New Orleans, Minnesota, then back home for New York and Portland.