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.
In his first night back from an ankle injury that forced him to miss six games, Stephen Curry limped off the court not to return after in third quarter Friday night after JaVale McGee fell into his knee.
He limped to the bench then eventually to the locker room after the injury.
The severity of the injury is not yet known and should become clear on Saturday after an MRI.
Curry scored 29 points and grabbed seven rebounds before being forced to leave the game, and the Warriors held on to win the game.
Obviously, if Curry is out heading into the playoffs, that changes the dynamic in the West, where the Houston Rockets were already right on the heels of the Warriors.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 28 points and the Indiana Pacers used a late 9-0 run to hold on for a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, putting them on the precipice of clinching a playoff spot.
The Pacers won for only the second time in five games but can clinch a playoff berth with one more win or a Detroit loss.
Los Angeles’ fading playoff aspirations were dealt another blow. The Clippers are now three games behind Utah for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. Utah was playing later Friday.
Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 27 points and DeAndre Jordan finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Clippers lost for the fifth time in six games.
They certainly had a chance to turn things around.
After the Clippers rallied from an 18-point deficit to take an 88-87 lead with 7:36 left in the fourth quarter, the teams traded the lead 10 times before Victor Oladipo made one of two free throws to leave it tied at 100 with 2:17 to play.
Bogdanovic broke the tie with a 12-footer and the Pacers followed that with seven straight points before Williams made a layup with 12 seconds left to end the run.
The Clippers were making shots early but couldn’t pull away from Indiana.
They led 28-27 after one and allowed Indiana to use a 9-2 spurt midway through the second quarter to erase a six-point deficit and take a 40-39 lead.
The Pacers scored the final five points of the half to break a 53-all tie and broke it open early in the third when Oladipo made his first three shots of the game, including two 3-pointers to make it 66-55.
Indiana then poured it on. Thaddeus Young‘s layup with 9:02 left in the third made it a 12-point game. Milos Teodosic‘s basket briefly halted the run, but the Pacers scored the next nine points to make it 75-57 with 6:19 to go.
Los Angeles closed the third quarter on a 12-5 run to get to 82-76.
Cleveland fans can only hope Sam Darnold is as good a passer as LeBron James.
And that his receivers are better than Jose Calderon. Or at least taller.
LeBron James grabbed a rebound and threw a perfect touchdown pass to a leaked out Jose Calderon as the Cavaliers went on to beat the Phoenix Suns Friday night.
By the way, LeBron made a nice dish to the returned Larry Nance Jr., too.
Finally healthy, it was easy to see where big man Brandan Wright would fit on Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets — he’s an athletic big man who can get up and down the court, he knows how to finish lobs above the rim, and could provide some front line depth behind Clint Capela and Nene. That’s why the Rockets picked him up in February after he was bought out by the Grizzlies.
It didn’t work out that way. Wright played in one game with Houston before his sore knee forced him to shut it down. He has not played since.
The Rockets are moving on, waiving Wright and bringing in forward Le’Bryan Nash out of the G-League on a 10-day contract, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
With center Brandan Wright unable to return from his knee issues this season, the Rockets will release Wright, who signed as a free agent last month, a person with knowledge of the move said…
He had a minor procedure and will work on his rehab with the Rockets staff, the individual familiar with the plans said.
“Brandan did everything positive,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He just wasn’t physically able to hang in there. We hate it that the guy isn’t part of this.”
Wright has played in just 28 total this season averaging 5 points and 3.4 rebounds in 13.6 minutes. He’s battled knee issues for a few seasons now and has not played more than 28 games in the last three. If healthy he can help teams, but we’ll see if he ever gets back into the NBA.
The Rockets use Ryan Anderson as their backup center, using Nene less of late, although how much D’Antoni can use Anderson in the playoffs due to his defensive challenges remains to be seen.
Nash, who played a season at Oklahoma State, will get his first taste of the NBA. He was a highly recruited kid out of high school, and this season has averaged 8.5 points in 19 minutes per game for the Rio Grande Vipers this season.