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.
Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson is a restricted free agent, and he is the kind of quality rotation player that teams with cash to burn may well try to poach. The Lakers have the right to match and likely will unless the offer is way over the top. But make no mistake, Clarkson will go with the team that offers him the most money.
That’s July, right now Clarkson is saying the right things about wanting to stay with the Lakers and play for new coach Luke Walton.
Clarkson was interviewed by Chris McGee of Time Warner Cable, as reported by lakersnation.com.
I want to stay in LA….I don’t really look at it as me being a free agent; I want to be here…
He (Luke) called me a few days after he got hired. We talked about the offensive system, what he sees in us young guys, where he sees the organization, the style we’re gonna play. I’m excited for him to come and work with us.
Most likely he gets a chance, the Lakers want to keep him. They see him as part of the future (or at least as an asset they can trade to get parts for their future). He’s saying all the right things to make Laker nation happy.
But it’s going to be about the money. It always is.
Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll was unquestionably terrible in the Eastern Conference Finals.
He shot just 30 percent overall and 19 percent from three. They brought him in as a “3&D” guy to slow down players like LeBron James, but he didn’t even register as a pest on LeBron’s radar. Heck, at one point Richard Jefferson blew past Carroll on the drive.
But as always, there is context. Remember that Carroll came back from knee surgery just for the playoffs, and that was far from the only injury he was dealing with, reports Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star.
Apparently Carroll had everything but leprosy.
Did the gamble pay off? Carroll didn’t play well all playoffs, but the Raptors did reach the Eastern Conference Finals. It depends on perspective.
But Carroll needs to get healthy this summer and earn that $45 million over three years still left on his deal.
DeMar DeRozan will be a free agent come July 1, and in a market flooded with money he’s going to have options. His name has been linked through rumors to his hometown Lakers all season, but they will be far from the only team making a call.
However, DeRozan doesn’t sound like a guy looking to leave Toronto.
He has said multiple times before how much he wanted to finish what was started north of the border and how much he loved the team and city. He said all of it again after the Raptors were eliminated from the playoffs by the Cavaliers on Friday. Check out this exit interview quote when DeRozan was asked if he could find a better situation than the one he’s in, via Zach Harper at CBSSports.com.
“I don’t think so,” DeRozan said. “My mindset has always been Toronto. I always preached it. I was passionate about it when we was losing. When we was terrible, I said I’m going to stick through this whole thing and I want to be that guy who brings this organization to where it is now. I definitely don’t want to switch up after we win.”
But how appealing is Los Angeles?
“How appealing? I grew up in L.A.,” DeRozan said. “That’s my home. There’s not a part of L.A. I haven’t seen. I don’t get caught up into it. I let whoever comes up with that say what they want to say. Only thing appealing to me is the things I’ve done in this organization and the things that can be done here. And that’s always been my mindset.”
What should you read into this? If the money is equal, he’s going to choose Toronto over Los Angeles or any other destination.
But make no mistake, this is about the money. In most summers I would not say DeRozan is a max player, but in this summer with so much money flooding the market someone is going to offer it — and it’s probably the Raptors. Despite the holes in his game — lack of outside shooting, inconsistent defense — if the Raptors lose him for nothing they take a big step back. I expect next season he will be putting on a Raptors jersey again.
But July is always an unpredictable month.
Entering the season, Dwane Casey’s seat was a little warm. He was not hired by the GM now in charge, and last season the Raptors had taken a step back, especially defensively.
After Toronto just ended the greatest season in franchise history — 56 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals — Casey’s job is safe. In fact, the Raptors want to make sure he sticks around a while longer, reports Marc Stein at ESPN.
The Raptors and coach Dwane Casey are expected to soon begin talks on a contract extension, league sources said Friday night after Toronto’s season ended with a 113-87 loss to the Cavaliers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Casey has one season left on his current contract at the Raptors’ option for $4 million next season.
Both sides want to get a deal done, which usually means things happen quickly.
This is a smart move by the Raptors, clearly Casey connects with this team and knows how to get the most out of them, and he adapted well in the playoffs looking for rosters and lineups that worked. He’s the right coach for this team.