For the first time since the playoffs last year, the Chicago Bulls come into Miami to take on the Heat Sunday afternoon (3:30 ET on ABC). A battle of the two best teams in the East, two of the league’s true contenders, it’s a fun early season showdown and chance to measure each other right now.
Here are five things to watch… well, really four things to watch and a question.
1. Tempo. With Dwyane Wade back in the lineup, the Heat want to use their pressure defense to force mistakes, create turnovers then get out in transition fast. Which is smart because with Wade and LeBron James they have two of the best finishers in the world on their team. Chicago wants to grind it out more in the half court to rely on their defense to win them games. Well, their defense and Derrick Rose. If the game is up-and-down and the Heat get a lot of easy buckets in transition they will win.
2. Can Derrick Rose be efficient? Derrick Rose was the MVP with reason last year, he shouldered most of the Bulls offensive load and shot a respectable 44.5 percent (an eFG% of 48.5 percent, which counts his threes) on his way to 25 points a game. Then he ran into the Heat, and while he scored 23.4 points per game he shot just 35 percent (39.6 percent eFG%) as defenders including LeBron made it tougher on him. With Rip Hamilton in the lineup will he find more space and be able to shoot a higher percentage?
3. How do the offseason additions change the dynamic? The Bulls needed another perimeter scoring option, they went out and got one of the hardest workers off the ball and best midrange shooters in the game in Richard Hamilton this summer. How do the Heat adjust and account for that? The Heat added Shane Battier and drafted Norris Cole, the later of whom is playing well at the point and provides depth. Combine that with Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller being healthy and the Heat are a much deeper team now, can the Bulls bench match them?
4. Can Ronnie Brewer contain LeBron James? LeBron has given up a lot of his threes and replaced them with touches in the post this year. Combine that with some more good looks in transition and he is putting up monster numbers this season. MVP numbers. The primary job of slowing him and making him work for his points will fall to Brewer (and Luol Deng if he is back). Brewer is a quality defender, but containing LeBron is a team effort. However, if Brewer is beaten consistently it’s going to be rough for the Bulls.
5. Does it really matter who wins? No. This is a measuring stick of where the teams are now, not where they will be in late May when everyone expects them to meet again in the Eastern Conference Finals. (And by the end of the season we expect them to be 1-2 in the East, as they are Sunday morning. Upstarts like Atlanta and Philly will battle for third and below.) But the Bulls can use a win — it can build some confidence in a Bulls team that was easily dispatched in five games when they met last playoffs.
Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe went onto the court and, according to Knicks guard Courtney Lee, verbally imitated a player.
The NBA fined Lowe $5,000 and Washington $15,000 and warned everyone more fines would follow for coaches displaying similar behavior.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t believe the league went far enough.
Popovich, via Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:
“It’s unsportsmanlike, it’s childish, it’s inappropriate,” Popovich said. “There’s no place for it.”
“I think they got off easy,” Popovich said.
“What if that shot costs a playoff game because somebody does that?” Popovich continued. “Maybe that affects a coach being fired. Maybe a franchise winning a series. So if you think about it, maybe it’s worth it for 5 or 10 thousand to go do that.”
For the league to send a sterner warning about such antics, Popovich suggested steeper fines of $250,00 for the team and $50,000 to $75,000 for an offending coach.
“Everybody would sit their ass down,” Popovich said.
Regardless of circumstances, it’s notable that Popovich sided with the NBA against a fellow coach – especially over an incident that didn’t directly involve the Spurs. Most coaches, even those who share Popovich’s opinion, would stay out of it. Popovich and Lowe are both represented by the same union, which ostensibly tries to protect coaches’ paychecks. It’s one thing to criticize the highly unpopular president. It’s another to lash out at someone with whom you have a shared financial partnership.
Beyond that, Popovich is right. Coaches encroaching onto the court should be eliminated. Popovich’s claim of it being unsportsmanlike rings a little hollow, considering his own behavior. But coaches toeing the sideline to distract players detracts from the quality of the game and is unsafe. There are plenty of reasons to loath the behavior beyond it offending sensibilities.
That said, Popovich has the wrong plan to eliminate it. His proposed fines would be overly punitive to lower-paid assistant coaches – and still worth the tradeoff in certain situations.
The better solution: Call technical fouls, which the league acknowledged should’ve happened with Lowe. That eliminates all cost-benefit analysis and punishes teams directly within the game if they cross that line.
President Donald Trump’s press, secretary Sean Spicer, lied about about the number of people viewing Trump’s inauguration. Spicer’s “alternative facts” have turned him into a laughingstock – and a couple NBA coaches are participating in mocking him.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers got Spicer on Saturday. Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:
Talking to a group of roughly a dozen reporters, Rivers joked it was OK to inflate the attendance figures. “The largest media crowd in NBA history came to see me today, and I really appreciate it,” he said with a laugh.
Then, Warriors coach Steve Kerr took his turn. Kerr was introduced as “former Orlando Magic star” before Golden State’s game in Orlando yesterday. He scored 122 points in 47 games with the Magic.
Sean Spicer will be talking about my Magic career any second now. Yeah, 14,000 points, greatest player in Magic history.
Lakers coach Luke Walton called the Lakers’ 122-73 loss to the Mavericks yesterday “embarrassing for us as a team, for us as an organization.”
At 49 points, it was the most lopsided loss in franchise history. Moreover, it came to 15-29 Dallas, the NBA’s fourth worst team.
The league hadn’t seen a loss that big to a team that bad in 24 years.
Here’s every game ever decided by at least 45 points, plotted by scoring difference and the victor’s full-season win percentage (or to date for the Mavericks and Warriors, who beat the Trail Blazers by 45 earlier this season). The Lakers’ loss yesterday is marked in purple:
Here are more details of similar games, which appear in the black box:
|March 18, 1972: Portland Trail Blazers 133, New York Knicks 86
|February 20, 1976: Chicago Bulls 130, Portland Trail Blazers 74
|January 2, 1993: Sacramento Kings 154, Philadelphia 76ers 98
|December 29, 1992: Sacramento Kings 139, Dallas Mavericks 81
|January 22, 2017: Dallas Mavericks 122, Los Angeles Lakers 73
|February 1, 1983: Chicago Bulls 129, Houston Rockets 76
|February 27, 1992: Charlotte Hornets 136, Philadelphia 76ers 84
The Lakers’ loss isn’t the worst in NBA history. Four teams have lost to worse teams by bigger margins, and a couple lost by more to barely worse teams.
But, barring a Dallas turnaround, the league hasn’t seen a loss like this in quite some time.
The NBA acknowledged the attention-grabbing officiating error late in the Bulls’ win over the Kings on Saturday: DeMarcus Cousins shouldn’t have been called for fouling Dwyane Wade, who hit the go-ahead free throw with 14 seconds left.
But before Sacramento claims the referees cost it a win, the Last Two Minute Report reveals a more significant missed call that favored the Kings.
Cousins should have been called for travelling with 56.3 left as he drove for a basket, according to the league:
Cousins (SAC) moves his pivot foot. The official is looking for any illegal contact and does not pick up the pivot foot.
The non-call directly allowed Cousins to score two points. Wade made only one free throw.
The officiating errors in the final two minutes helped the Kings more than the Bulls.
(Sacramento center Kosta Koufos also got away with a shooting foul on Jimmy Butler with 37.8 seconds left, according to the league, but Robin Lopez tipped in Butler’s miss, anyway. The Bulls weren’t shorted any points on that possession.)