5 Things to Watch, Bulls-Lakers: Where the Lakers look for the… upset?

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GAMES. There will be actual NBA games played today starting at noon. To get you pumped, ready, and primed for the start of the 2011-2012 NBA season, we give you five things to keep an eye on today in Heat-Mavericks.

To get you pumped:

 

Point of defense

Things which terrify Lakers fans: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Blake trying to guard Derrick Rose. Rose has had nothing to do but think about playing the Lakers for a month, and nothing to think about but making up for the ECF for six months. The Bulls surprised the Lakers last year (a lot of teams surprised the Lakers last year), but in reality, they just match up extremely well. In particular, Rose has the ability to blow by any defender. Byrant can’t carry the load offensively and try and lock down Rose. Ron Artest is likely the one who will be charged with checking the MVP, trying to take the same tactic that worked with LeBron in the ECF. If Artest can’t handle him or if he gets in foul trouble, this could get messy in a hurry.

Standing Tall And… well, Tall

Carlos Boozer is out-sized even without Andrew Bynum down low. Boozer struggles against players with considerable length, and Pau Gasol has miles of it. The Bulls need Boozer to score, but more importantly, he’s got to muscle Gasol which tends to minimalize his impact. The height advantage for L.A. has been a huge part of their strategy for years, but without Odom (traded) and Bynum (suspended), the Lakers will have to rely on Gasol to handle the job of being big. He’s got a tough matchup with both Boozer and Noah. Gasol has to come through in a big way.

Kung-Fu Wrist Action 

How good is the wrist? That’s going to be a huge part of this game. Kobe Bryant’s going to have to shoulder the offensive load without Bynum around, even if Gasol comes through. He’s practiced this week, but has taken it easy on shooting. Rip Hamilton will likely guard him for long stretches, and he knows how to make that wrist hurt more without being obvious about it. Bryant has to be high volume for the Lakers to win, but he also needs to rest the wrist. So that’s not a good combination. Bryant’s wrist may hurt more the more he shoots, but he’s going to shoot. Something to watch.

Bull Rush

The Bulls’ offense was an afterthought for Tom Thibodeau last season. While you want Derrick Rose to have autonomy and the ability to improvise, you also need some sort of structure, and too often last year the Bulls’ offense was overly simplistic. The Lakers will be coached well enough even with talent issues to cause them problems on defense.So the Bulls need to actually work a few sets with some cohesion. The Lakers will scheme to attack Rose on the edge and the drive. The kickout has to be clean, but all the scheming in the world won’t help if they don’ their shots.

Going Deep

The Lakers are crazy thin in the frontcourt, and Josh McRoberts has to have a huge game. On the other end, the Bulls have Omer Asik and Taj Gibson, and have a huge advantage in depth. The Lakers need long minutes from starters and for someone on the bench to surprise with a huge game. This might be a low-scoring game, but Kobe and Gasol can’t do it all.

LeBron James’ camp already shooting down leaving-Cavaliers rumor

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LeBron James has done a terrible job shooting down rumors about him leaving the Cavaliers

Except this one from Chris Sheridan, who cited a source saying LeBron would “100 percent” leave Cleveland next summer due to a rift with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Sheridan’s source saying LeBron is leaving doesn’t make that true. But other anonymous sources denying it doesn’t make the denials true, either.

New Orleans Saints fire Pelicans’ team physician

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The Pelicans have been crushed by injuries the last few years.

Why? That’s an incredibly complex question.

But the New Orleans Saints – who share an owner (Tom Benson), a front-office leader (Mickey Loomis) and other staff with the Pelicans – have found culprits for their own injury woes.

Mike Triplett of ESPN:

The Saints have fired team orthopedists Deryk Jones and Misty Suri, per source, after it was discovered that CB Delvin Breaux has a fractured fibula and will require surgery expected to sidelined him for 4-6 weeks. Breaux was originally diagnosed with a contusion

Suri is a Pelicans team physician.

Scott Kushner of The Advocate:

Fairly or not, Suri – after the Saints deemed him unacceptable – will be in the crosshairs if he keeps his job with the the Pelicans and their injury woes continue.

Rumor: LeBron James ‘100 percent’ leaving Cavaliers next summer

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Chris Sheridan was ahead of the crowd in 2014, reporting LeBron James would likely leave the Heat for the Cavaliers – which obviously happened.

But Sheridan called it a “90 percent chance,” a small – but large enough – hedge. He also said LeBron would announce the decision on LeBron’s personal website. Of course, LeBron revealed his choice in a Sports Illustrated essay.

So, maybe Sheridan knows what he’s talking about. Maybe he doesn’t.

But the longtime NBA writer just fanned the flames of the already hot LeBron-leaving-Cleveland rumors.

Sheridan:

Of course, the denials came quickly.

There have already been plenty of warning signs about LeBron’s relationship with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, which didn’t restart in a great place.

It’s entirely believable LeBron would leave Cleveland, in large part due to Gilbert.

But it’s also fun to speculate about that salacious storyline.

Maybe Sheridan or his source got carried away for that very reason. Or maybe they know something.

Neither possibility should be discounted.

Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant betting odds favorites to win MVP

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Unlike the early projections for the NBA title next season, the MVP race seems wide open.

Russell Westbrook put up ridiculous numbers on his way to the award last season, but now he is going to share the rock with Paul George. James Harden made a legitimate case and would have won most seasons, but now he will have the ball in his hands less with Chris Paul running the show.

Who is going to win? Westbrook and Golden State’s Kevin Durant are the early betting line favorites, with these odds courtesy of online gaming site Bovada.

Russell Westbrook (OKC) 7/2
Kevin Durant (GS) 9/2
Kawhi Leonard (SAN) 13/2
LeBron James (CLE) 15/2
James Harden (HOU) 8/1
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 17/2
Steph Curry (GS) 11/1
Anthony Davis (NOP) 16/1
Paul George (OKC) 25/1
Chris Paul (HOU) 25/1
Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 25/1
DeMarcus Cousins (NOP) 33/1
Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN) 33/1
John Wall (WAS) 33/1
Blake Griffin (LAC) 40/1
Nikola Jokic (DEN) 40/1
DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 50/1
Joel Embiid (PHI) 50/1
Kyrie Irving (CLE) 50/1
Damian Lillard (POR) 50/1
Draymond Green (GS) 60/1
Ben Simmons (PHI) 66/1
Gordon Hayward (BOS) 70/1
Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 75/1
Jimmy Butler (MIN) 75/1
Andrew Wiggins (MIN) 75/1
Kevin Love (CLE) 100/1
Kyle Lowry (TOR) 100/1
Kristaps Porzingis (NYK) 100/1

Yes, it is far too early to discuss this. As a voter, I don’t even start to make a list of serious candidates until midway through the season (then that list evolves as the season wears on). But it’s fun to speculate about.

To me, the smartest bet on the board seems to be Kawhi Leonard — he could have won last year, and if anything the Spurs are going to ask more of him this season. I think Harden has a chance to win it this season even with CP3, same with Westbrook, but it feels less likely. It’s hard to imagine one Warrior being picked above the others for the award. If Giannis Antetokounmpo finds his jumper it could happen, but that feels more like something a couple seasons away. Same with Karl-Anthony Towns being in consideration.

If you’re going to bet on Kevin Love, just donate that money to charity where it will do some good.