Phil Jackson says the Bulls ‘overachieved.’ So that means the Lakers…

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There are so many things Phil Jackson will miss about the NBA. The comfy feel of a custom chair brought in just for him. The smell of reporter sweat as he toys with them like a cat with a mouse. The lavish comforts of studio hosts proclaiming him as the best thing since sliced bread. The roar of the crowd, so vivid he can almost here them now… “We want tacos! We want tacos!” they seem to say.

All that’s gone, replaced by a quiet fade into the sunset.

But good news! Being retired doesn’t mean Jackson has to give up his favorite pastime: taking potshots at other coaches, teams, and players! Woo!

From ESPN Chicago:

“I think they overachieved last year as far as record and how they got to the spots they got to in the playoffs,” Jackson said Thursday on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000. “They still have to have some steady shooters from the outside to complement the penetration they have, and then (Carlos Boozer) has to have that post-up game that he was brought there to give them.

“They just can’t be one-dimensional in that regard. They have to have those complementary pieces to assist Rose in his game.”

via Phil Jackson said Chicago Bulls need to add pieces to help Derrick Rose – ESPN Chicago.

Jackson’s comments should rank about a -500 on the outrage scale. Everyone knows that Rose needs more surrounding help. The overachieved thing is interesting, however, as is the assessment of their personnel moves.

At another outlet, last fall I gave the Bulls a C+ for their offseason. I later adjusted it to a B- based off the hiring of Tom Thibodeau, who I had overlooked. (I re-did the grade prior the season starting, so I wasn’t just using revisionist history after they won.) Bulls fans were apoplectic, as you’d expect, and I looked like a moron the entire season especially when they won the most games in the NBA.  Let me say that again. I gave a B- to a team that won the most games in the NBA. 

But here’s the question. Were they really that good? Were they always doomed to an elimination based on their roster?

Let’s consider the Spurs for a moment. The Spurs had one of the best seasons in franchise history. They were the number one seed. But their season and roster makeup is considered a monumental failure because they were ousted by an eighth seed in the first round.

The Bulls, on the other hand, made it all the way to the conference championship. That settles that question, right? Except that if the Bulls had played the Grizzlies, don’t you think that might have been pretty tight, considering the Bulls had what can be considered the toughest five-game series win in recent history? They struggled mightily with Indiana. Struggled mightily with the Hawks. In essence, if it weren’t for Derrick Rose going above and beyond in three games in the playoffs, the Bulls are looking at longer series and possibly getting eliminated by the Hawks. The Hawks.

“But they didn’t, so this is pointless” Bulls fans might say, and they’d be correct. They did win those series, they didn’t play Memphis, and they did win the most games in the NBA and wind up in the conference finals. But the reason I gave them a B- early was because their biggest acquisition was Carlos Boozer. And anyone who’s paid attention to the Jazz over the past four years could have told you that Carlos Boozer is not the way to a championship. He is not Rose’s Pippen, Kareem, Shaq/Kobe, or even his Manu. And that was their big signing.

Other than that? Ronnie Brewer who didn’t really make much of an impact, Kyle Korver who alternated being brilliant and terrible in the playoffs, and… yeah, other than that it was just Thibodeau. Thibodeau, who was the real cause of the Bulls’ run. Their offense wasn’t up to snuff, but Thibodeau’s defense made lineups featuring both Boozer and Korver terrific defensively. That’s insane in itself. Yet it was Thibodeau’s inability to adjust that lead to problems in the playoffs and their eventual demise at the hands of the Heat.

Now, let’s go back one more time.

I’m saying here that the Bulls weren’t really that impressive, that their signings were less than formidable, and that their making the conference finals is kind of a sham, a case of overachievement.

You realize the 2008 Celtics struggled with the Atlanta Hawks to the nth degree in the first round, then fought down the Cavaliers in a similar manner to the Hawks, before taking down the Pistons? What’s the point? The point is that great teams struggle in the playoffs. Everyone struggles in the playoffs at some point, save for the truly greatest teams, or at least those with dominant matchup advantages.

The Bulls didn’t have a B- offseason. They had an A+ offseason, because they made the moves which lead to wins. But it’s going to be really interesting to see how this team develops over the next few years. They won’t amnesty Boozer, though they should. And Thibodeau eventually is going to have to make changes to his style and approach or he’s going to become the anti-D’Antoni, the NBA version of Marty Schottenheimer. All defense, but not enough knives being brought to a gun fight.

Finally, if the Bulls were overrated and made the Finals, then what were the Lakers last year? Interesting question for Jackson.

LeBron James drives, Pau Gasol stands no chance of stopping dunk (VIDEO)

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Monday night was an ugly night for LeBron James and the Cavaliers. They got thrashed by the Spurs 103-74 in a game where they looked nothing like a title contender. The Cavaliers fell to second place in the Eastern Conference. LeBron had 17 points but needed 17 shots to get there.

But there were some Cavs highlights. One was LeBron pushing the ball in transition, becoming a one-man break, and while Pau Gasol was in the right place there was nothing he was going to do to stop this dunk.

DeMar DeRozan scores 36, Raptors top Magic 131-112 for 6th in row

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan scored 36 points and Cory Joseph had 15 points and 13 assists as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Orlando Magic 131-112 on Monday night for their sixth straight victory.

DeRozan, selected the Eastern Conference player of the week earlier in the day, set the pace early by scoring 18 in the first quarter. Joseph added six rebounds and Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors (45-29).

Elfrid Payton had 22 points and nine assists for Orlando (27-47). Evan Fournier added 20 points, and Nikola Vucevic had 12 points and 15 assists.

It was the first game between the teams since the Raptors traded Terrence Ross to the Magic for Serge Ibaka in February. Ross finished with 17 points and two rebounds, while Ibaka had 16 points and seven rebounds.

The Raptors took a 99-89 lead into the fourth quarter.

DeRozan’s basket gave Toronto a 19-point lead with 8:15 to go in the third. But the Magic, winners of seven games this season after falling behind by double digits, fought back.

Bismack Biyombo made a pair of free throws to cut Toronto’s lead to five with 12 seconds left in the period.

But after DeRozan hit a jumper to widen the lead to seven, Delon Wright stole the inbounds pass and hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Toronto its double-digit lead back going into the fourth.

Payton paced the Magic surge, hitting all four field goals he attempted in the quarter. He led all scorers with 10 points in the period, as Orlando outscored Toronto 32-26.

After four ties and seven lead changes in the game’s first 15 minutes, the Raptors took charge over the final nine minutes of the second quarter to take a 73-57 lead into halftime.

The Raptors hit all four 3s they attempted in the quarter, three by Norman Powell, who led all scorers with 11 points in the period.

Eight different Toronto players scored in the quarter as the Raptors outscored the Magic 33-17 over that nine-minute stretch and led by as many as 18 points.

The Magic cooled off from a torrid shooting pace in the first quarter to a still-respectable 48 percent in the second. Fournier led the way with nine points in the period.

Toronto led 35-34 after a first quarter that featured terrific shooting by both teams.

The Magic led by seven points early as Ross hit four of his first five shots and Aaron Gordon poured in 10 points. Orlando shot 13 for 29 (62 percent) from the field in the period.

DeRozan was 7 for 10 from the field in the opening quarter and hit his only 3-point attempt.

Toronto shot 15 for 24 (63 percent) as each starter had at least one field goal in the first period.

TIP-INS

Magic: Ross received a standing ovation after a tribute commemorating his 4 1/2 seasons in Toronto was played on the scoreboard during the first timeout. . Orlando has hit a 3 in 812 consecutive games, the fifth-longest active streak in the NBA. . The Magic had a 66-58 edge on points in the paint.

Raptors: DeRozan’s conference player of the week award was his fourth of the season. He averaged a league-best 33.3 points in three games last week. . Valanciunas pulled down the 3,000th rebound of his career in the second quarter, second to Chris Bosh (4,776) on Toronto’s all-time list. . The 73 points were the most the Raptors have scored in the first half this season.

 

Kawhi Leonard scores 25 as Spurs dismantle ailing Cavaliers, 103-74

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cleveland Cavaliers 103-74 on Monday night in a showdown that turned into a major letdown for the defending NBA champions.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol added 14 points apiece for the Spurs, who won their fifth straight.

Cleveland (47-26) dropped its second in a row, set a season low for points and fell a half-game behind Boston (48-26) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Cavaliers star LeBron James was injured late in the third quarter after taking an elbow to the base of his neck. He remained on the bench for a while receiving medical attention, then headed toward the locker room and didn’t return to the game.

His status was not immediately known.

Cleveland has been out of sync recently, losing three of five, and those struggles only got worse against San Antonio. The Spurs led by as many as 33 points to the delight of the sold-out crowd.

San Antonio (57-16) is two games behind Golden State (59-14) for the league’s best record entering a home showdown with the Warriors on Wednesday.

Cleveland opted to play its stars rather than sit them for rest, but the trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat out the fourth quarter of its second rout in the past two weeks.

James exited with 25 seconds remaining in the third after taking an elbow to his neck from David Lee on a rebound. James continually rubbed the area before collapsing after he crossed midcourt and remained on the floor for about a minute before walking unassisted to the bench. He left for the locker room early in the fourth quarter during a timeout.

James finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes.

The Spurs held the Cavaliers scoreless for three minutes after San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was issued a technical foul during a timeout with 6:38 remaining in the first half.

Leonard hit a right-handed runner as the second quarter closed to give the Spurs a 64-40 lead.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Cleveland completed its schedule against the West, finishing 16-14. In addition to losing to the Spurs by 29 points, the Cavaliers lost by 35 to Golden State and 30 to the Los Angeles Clippers. . Cleveland F Kyle Korver missed his third straight game with a sore left foot, and the team plans to sit him for several games to see if rest and treatment helps. Korver will sit out Thursday in Chicago and Friday at home against Philadelphia before being re-evaluated, a team spokesman said. The shooting specialist missed seven games earlier this month with an inflamed tendon in his foot. . G Iman Shumpert missed his second consecutive game with a sore right knee. . James needs 24 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal for seventh overall in career scoring. O’Neal has 28,596 career points. . The Cavaliers averaged 116.3 points in their previous four games.

Spurs: San Antonio is holding its opponents to an average of less than 100 points for the 22nd straight season. . Danny Green tied his season high with four blocked shots. . Leonard has scored in double figures in 100 straight games.

 

Russell Westbrook dominates final minutes, hits game winner for Thunder (VIDEO)

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This game looked over. The Dallas Mavericks were up 13 with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Oklahoma City Thunder were going to take the loss.

Then Russell Westbrook happened.

He scored 12 points in a 14-0 Thunder run to close out the game, then capped it off hitting the game winner for the Thunder (video above). For the game-winner, the Thunder almost went 1-4 flat and just let Westbrook work in isolation on his defender, a smart play when you have a guy this talented.

It was the kind of game that the Westbrook for MVP crowd will point to — he had 37 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, and he absolutely dominated the final minutes of the game (he shot 5-of-9 down the stretch).

This was Westbrook’s 37th triple-double of the season, and the Thunder are 30-7 when he does reaches that mark. Westbrook takes heat in some quarters for “empty stats” or trying to pad his numbers, but the fact is the Thunder are 11-24 when he doesn’t put up the huge numbers and carry the offense. If you’re going to define “MVP” by value to his team, it’s hard not to choose Westbrook this season, this team is toast without him.