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.

Watch Russell Westbrook drop a triple-double in epic battle with James Harden (VIDEO)

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HOUSTON (AP) Lou Williams scored 31 points off the bench, James Harden finished with 22 points and 12 assists, and the Houston Rockets never trailed while cruising to a 137-125 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

Russell Westbrook had 39 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists for his second straight triple-double and his 36th this season, but Harden led the Rockets to a 25-point lead through three quarters in the matchup between top MVP candidates.

Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon added 24 points apiece for the Rockets, whose lead was trimmed to eight on a 3-pointer by Westbrook with about 90 seconds left. The Rockets scored four quick points after that to secure the victory.

Harden left late in the game after crashing into the court and appearing to injure his left wrist but said in a TV interview he expected to be OK.

Houston jumped out to a 9-0 lead and was up by at least 20 for most of the game. It was a stark change from the first three games between these teams this season, which were decided by a combined seven points.

Williams made 11 of 15 shots, going 7 of 8 on 3-pointers. He didn’t miss a shot until his layup was blocked by Jerami Grant early in the fourth quarter.

Houston won its fourth straight overall and has won nine of their past 12 games against the Thunder.

The Rockets shot 71 percent in the first half, and Harden made a layup before grabbing a rebound and hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend Houston’s lead to 113-88 entering the fourth quarter.

The Thunder chipped away with a 12-4 run midway through the fourth quarter to get within 126-114 with 4 minutes left. Williams hit a 3-pointer after that to slow down the Thunder the team’s late run.

The Rockets had a 16-point lead in the third quarter before they used a 13-4 run to make it 108-83 with about 90 seconds left in the quarter. Williams had two 3-pointers in that stretch and a highlight came when Houston stripped the ball from Westbrook and Harden dished to Ariza, who finished with another 3. The run wrapped up with an alley-oop dunk from Harden to Clint Capela, but Capela received a technical on the play for hanging on the rim.

Mike D’Antoni received a technical seconds later for arguing that call.

Houston had built a 79-59 lead by halftime thanks in part to nearly perfect 3-point shooting by Trevor Ariza and Williams. Ariza made four of five attempts and had 16 points at the break, and Williams was a perfect 6 for 6 overall, with four 3-pointers to pile up 18 points in the first two quarters.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Victor Oladipo finished with 15 points. … Steven Adams and Alex Abrines scored 11 points apiece.

Rockets: Houston’s 79 points were the most the team has scored in a half this season. … Sunday was the 12th time this season where the Rockets had 100 points before the fourth quarter. … Williams had at least 20 points off the bench for the 29th time this season.

ANDERSON’S HEALTH

Houston’s Ryan Anderson will miss about two weeks after spraining his right ankle on Friday night against the Pelicans. D’Antoni hopes Anderson will recover in time to play the last couple of regular-season games and be at full strength for the start of the playoffs.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Visit Dallas on Monday.

Rockets: Host Golden State on Tuesday.

Watch every one of Jimmy Butler’s career-high 14 assists in win over Bucks (VIDEO)

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler seems to be thriving without backcourt teammate Dwyane Wade. On Sunday in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Butler dished out a career-high 14 assists to go along with 20 points, six rebounds, and three steals.

Butler, 27, helped Chicago to a 109-94 win over the Bucks. He looked good doing it, dropping dimes off of both the pick-and-roll and while coming off screens.

The NBA put together a handy little video to be able to check out all of Butler’s assists.

Clippers blow 18-point lead, lose in final 2 seconds on putback to Kings (VIDEO)

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The Los Angeles Clippers had a rough go of things against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. Up by 18 with more than five minutes to go, LA blew their lead and were left to watch as the Kings sealed the game late.

The final possession for Sacramento came on a missed corner 3-pointer by Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. The Kings got the outlet pass out on the rebound, but Ben McLemore took it to the rack and missed. That’s when Willie Cauley-Stein stepped in, cleaned up the board, and put the game-winning shot home with less than two seconds left.

Los Angeles lost in spectacular fashion, and became the only team this season to lose given their game situation.

Here’s a compilation the NBA put together of Sacramento’s epic comeback:

Meanwhile, Chris Paul called it the worst regular season loss of his career.

The Clippers peaked too soon. Like, the first 20 games of the season too soon.

Russell Westbrook throws incredible halfcourt bounce pass vs. Rockets (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook had yet another triple-double on Sunday. The Oklahoma City Thunder star notched 13 assists in the loss to the Houston Rockets, 137-125, and one of them came on a nifty pass to teammate Victor Oladipo.

The play happened with the Thunder on the fastbreak early in the third quarter. Westbrook was moving from left-to-right across the middle of the floor with the ball while Oladipo streaked down the right wing.

With the Rockets defense collapsing, Westbrook reached halfcourt and fired a bounce pass that sliced through the opposition.

Oladipo finished with the clean dunk.

Still not sure it beats this one, but I think we’ll have to compare once the season comes to a close.