The Nine Circles of Bobcats Hell

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The Bobcats are in Hell.

Not literally. They’re still alive. They still get paid. They’re operational. They’re not tortured with fire.

Other than that, though, yeah, pretty hell like.

The team is on pace for historic levels of failure. It is literally just about as bad as it can get. There is nearly no reason to watch the team, even if your team is playing them. It’s an automatic win. Better to do your taxes or tweeze your eyebrows.

How did it get to this? How did we reach this  level? What makes the Bobcats so absolutely terrible? And is there anything, anything, anything to be hopeful about whatsoever? Maybe by diving in we can move forward from the horror. With that, we present the Nine Circles of Bobcats Hell.
The First Circle: They Are Terrible

Via the NBA.com stats database, here are the rankings of the Bobcats in some relevant categories. Points per 100 possessions: 30th. Points allowed per 100 possessions: 29th. Net points per 100 possesions: 30th. Offensive Rebound percentage: 28th. Rebound percentage: 30th. True Shooting Percentage: 30th. Field goal percentage: 30th. Three-point percentage: 30th. Point differential: 30th. Points in the paint: 28th. Opposing second-chance points: 30th. Opponent effective field goal percentage: 28th.

You get the picture. The point is to illustrate that it’s not “the Bobcats are absolutely terrible in a few key areas.” The point is that outside of at-rim defense and not turning the ball over, they are bad in almost every single category. And not just bad. Horrific.

They can’t shoot. They can’t defend. They can’t rebound. They can’t rotate, close-out, lock down, communicate, obfuscate, irritate or confound. They can’t chase down, track down, corral or snare rebounds. They can’t score at the rim, they can’t score from deep. They’re not bad from 9-14 feet, which would be great if it weren’t one of the least efficient places on the floor? Want to have your eyes on fire? Enjoy this:

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So when we say this team is bad, we mean this team is awful. It is a disaster. It is the kind of combination of players which should never be assembled the same way ever again if for no other reason than to not insult Dr. James Naismith and his efforts to bring a game meant to be fun to the people of this planet.

The Bobcats are terrible.

The Second Circle: They Are So Terrible They Cannot Get Good Return on a Firesale

Tyrus Thomas was acquired for a first-round pick. D.J. Augustin was a lottery pick. Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker, two lottery picks. Corey Maggette was a quality scorer at one point. Boris Diaw was a major contributor to a Phoenix Suns playoff run. And you can’t move any of these guys.

If he wanted to, Rich Cho could have moved them, but he couldn’t even get return relative to a yard sale. This isn’t even entirely because of their individual talent. Augustin could help a playoff team or two. Tyrus Thomas is still talented enough to draw offers at some level. Diaw had an expiring. But the overall level of talent meant that, presumably, no quality offers of picks came rumbling through the offices in Charlotte, because collecively, they all dragged the team down.

Moving forward, the team isn’t able to just press the reset button because it’s like if the glitch freeze on your Super Nintendo spread to your carpet, controller, and cerebral cortext. The virus of suck is everywhere. The Bobcats are the basketball verison of a nuclear disaster site, and that’s without any horrific off-court stuff to speak of.

The Third Circle: They Can’t Bring In Free Agents

Something that gets lost whenever a small-market franchise overpays for a player is this simple fact. To convince a player to agree to play somewhere without a level of coolness and weather that springs to the mind thougts of outer Siberia, you have to pony up.

The Bobcats somehow manage to combine the two worst elements facing a team trying to land free agents, and this in spite of the weather actually being quite nice.

It’s not cool to play in Charlotte. I want to state right up front that Charlotte is a fantastic city. There’s a brewery downtown that makes an amber ale that was so good I’ve considered establishing bootlegging lines from there to my house. It’s a beautiful city deep in the heart of beautiful country.

It is also not cool at all.

Chapel Hill is cool. Even Greensboro. Winston-Salem. But Charlotte is not. Charlotte is famous for banking. Banking is not cool. So it has that going against it.

Even worse, though, is that the franchise has no history of basketball to speak of. Selling players on San Antonio, you can mention George Gervin, David Robinson, and the past ten years of Duncan dominance. They have a tradition and history rife with success. Even the Pacers can show 8 points in 9 seconds and the classic Knicks games. There is some level of success there. Charlotte has nothing like that.

You can see that was part of Larry Brown’s thought process when he invoked the short-term, “burn it all just get to the playoffs” approach. At some point you have to set your sights lower than the playoffs and just make yourself considered an actual NBA franchise in the mind of the players. But even that didn’t help and the result is that the Bobcats can’t talk anyone into signing there. Who wants to go to somewhere that isn’t considered cool and lose a bunch of games when you have no emotional or respectful attachment to the team?

To put this into comparison, every year kids from inner city areas dream of playing in Lawrence, Kansas. I live close to Lawrence. Lawrence is a supremely nice city. There is no reason why soeone who grew up in Compton should want to spend two to three years in Lawrence, Kansas. But they do, because there’s something about beocming a Jayhawk.

The Bobcats have none of that.

The Fourth Circle: They Are Financially Limited

Even if the free agents were in a position to be wooed, tehy don’t have the operating budget to start slinging around cash. Owner Michael Jordan has gazillions but you don’t run a business by chasing good money after bad unless you’re Daniel Snyder. Mark Cuban kind of did that, but he had a long-term plan and, well, he’s Mark Cuban.

When those numbers about teams losing money circulated this summer about teams losing money, the league’s stated reasoning behind the lockout, it was never stated which teams were involved. They didn’t need to be. The Bobcats were undeniably such a team. Jordan took a bath on buying out Bob Johnson and in the early years of his tenure as owner we’ve seen no indication he’s got the capital invested to turn this thing around. The Bobcats laid off several employees during the lockout and despite attendance figures that aren’t completely horrible, rank 26th in value according to Forbes.

How do you bringin auxilliary comforts if your business is just trying to swing a profit? How do make any momentum if that’s continually your situation?

The Fifth Circle: The Jordan Issue

Jordan has a complicated place in this situation. Does being pitched to by the greatest player of all time carry weight? Absolutely. Is he the one actively pitching? Usually not, and if he is, he’s pitching as the owner of a small market team with no history of winning who was a disaster as GM in Washington. Jordan’s draft history is subject to intense scrutiny, with the feeling being that he tends to swing for guys with established resumes who aren’t always the best talents.

He famously ruined one high schooler in Kwame Brown by destroying his confidence daily. Brown was going to be bad regardless, but what Jordan did in practice is considered legend.

Then there’s the lockout. Jordan was active and infalammatory during the lockout, reportdly very much pushing for harsher and harsher aproaches to the players, which many felt betrayed his 1999 position in which he told the late Wizards-owner Abe Pollin to sit down and that if he can’t afford to run his team to sell it. There were a lot of bad feelings from the players left over that and it remains to be seen how effective Jordan can be in the role of recruiter.

This is all beside the fact that Jordan’s standards are above and beyond, well, anything. Playing for Jordan is intimidating. Many free agents grew up with his posters on their walls, many of the younger ones hearing of him more in myth than reality, and all of them grew up wearing his shoes. It’s kind of a big deal to walk into a losing organization under his eye every morning.

The Sixth Circle: DeSagana Diop

The Bobcats willingly traded for DeSagana Diop in 2009 after signing a six-year, $32 million contract in July of 08. Assuming he activates his option for next year, the Cats will owe Diop $7.37 million for next year. They might be able to use his contract at the deadline, they might be able to get rid of it, but in all likelihood, it will represent one of the worst contracts by any team over the past five years. (The Nets and Johan Petro wave hello). It’s less the fact that Diop was overpaid it was that he was so overpaid, and then acquired by the Cats (though his value was considerably higher at the point of acquisition). That almost makes it worse that the value has dropped so consdirably while his contract value has risen.

It’s representative of the Bobcats. A bad acquisition that somehow gets worse over time. A cash-strapped team trading for a poor player with limited upside on a bad contract. That’s what the Bobcats do, and that’s a reflection of where the franchise is in its development.

The Seventh Circle: Sean May

If Diop reflects the Bobcats’ terrible decision-making in acquisitions, then May reflects their poor drafting acumen. An undersized big man reliant on a large frame vs. elite athleticism and who boosted into the lottery based on his ability at the college level. Here’s the thing. It wasn’t a bad idea at the time.

It just wasn’t. May was considered a legitimate franchise player when he was drafted. Early returns were not disastrous. It took time to understand he was heading in the wrong direction, that he wasn’t going to work out. May averaged 17 and 10 per 36 his first season. 18 and 10 the next season. Then the bottom fell out. He wound up in Sacramento and then faded into the night.

There are those that say that the draft is determined by a team’s scouting, acumen, insight. The Spurs certainly reflect that. But too often a team’s future is decided by the random nature of how picks do or do not develop. The Bobcats were, are damned because every pick they made for the duration of their existance has been an unfortunate run of the cards.

The Eighth Circle: Emeka Okafor

And then there’s this. In 2004, the expansion Bobcats somehow landed the No.4 spot in the lottery. Desperate to move up, they traded with the Clippers to acquire the second pick. The choice was between two legit centers. One was a high school freak of nature who could just as easy go down among the long line of project bigs who never panned out, and a defensive stalwart at 6-10 fresh off being named the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player who averaged 17 and 11 in college for a major program.

The first pick was Dwight Howard.

The second pick was Emeka Okafor.

It’s not that Mek was a bad pick, he really wasn’t. He played well for the Bobcats, and later for the Hornets. He was Rookie of the Year with Charlotte. He is one of the better defensive bigs in the game.

But another ball comes up and the Bobcats get Dwight Howard and we’re talking about Howard possibly leaving Charlotte but at least the franchise is legitimate. The Bobcats’ first and most important draft is one in which the fourth pick was Shaun Livingston, and the second best player in the draft drafted at either 7 (Luol Deng) or No. 9 (Andre Iguodala). (Or Josh Smith at No. 17, Kevin Martin at No. 26, or Al Jefferson at No. 15.)

That’s the life of the Bobcats.

The Ninth Circle: The Hornets

Once, long ago, there was a franchise.

A franchise that had sold out arenas. A franchise with an upstart group of youngsters in a talented power forward and a near-lunatic center who blocked everything imaginable. Versus the damned history of the Bobcats, the franchise had the rookie center nail a three to knock off the mighty Boston Celtics in the most improbable fashion.

It was a franchise of contention and excitement. It made the playoffs seven of its fourteen years in the city. And just like that, it was gone.

George Shinn alienated the city, alienated the fans, alienated the everything. And in response, fans stopped coming. Shinn responded by demanding a new arena. He didn’t get it. He moved the franchise.

Professional basketball has never recovered.

The NBA has a lot of warts. George Shinn showed all of them to Charlotte and it never forgot. Carolina loves basketball, more than any state in the union. It is basketball incorporated. But the damage done has been irreparable, and the Cats continue to see the karmic effects.

The worst thing to happen to Charlotte with regards to pro basketball isn’t the Bobcats. It’s why the Bobcats were necessary.

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But lo, as it was with Dante, the river will be crossed.

The Bobcats have bottomed out. Management, ownership, coaching seems to understand what has to happen. Rich Cho was hired and the plan is clear. He has prioritized getting draft picks. The Bobcats’ pick owed to Chicago for the Tyrus Thomas trade is lottery protected. They picked up a protected pick from Portland. The future isn’t bright, but it’s uncertain. That’ an improvement.

There’s a philosophy which says that Hell is simply the absence of God.

In basketball, hope is the most mighty force you can have. It’s what allows fans to keep coming back. We’ve taken you through how the Bobcats reached this point, but where are they going?

Kemba Walker has nights. There are holes, but he has nights. D.J. Augustin will likely get good value on the market. Tyrus Thomas, when healthy, can contribute. Bismack Biyombo is something. There are good things to be found. Not many, but some. Gerald Henderson looks like a legit wing in the making.

And despite all this, the Bobcats are professional. They’re terrible, they’re awful, they have no reason to do anything resembling effort, but there the effort is. You can mock them, you can deride them, you can crush them. But every night those guys walk on the floor and play, knowing they’re going to get crushed and they still show up for work. That’s more than a lot of people in this country do.  It’s better to try and be horrible than to not try and be mediocre. That’s why it’s easy to say the Bobcats are in a better position than the Wizards. Their star player isn’t underperforming because he doesn’t exist. There’s freedom in how low they are.

It’s going to take a long, hard journey. But all it takes is one look back for the Bobcats to realize it can only get better from here.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

Here’s all 192 players who declared early entry for the NBA draft

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On June 26, 60 people will be drafted into the NBA. It’s the culmination of a dream for them, one we’re not going to spoil by noting most will not stick in the league beyond a few years (many less than that). Well, maybe we did.

However, a lot more than 60 people threw their hat in the ring — 192 this season, to be specific. There are a lot of reasons guys step forward. Some legitimately know they will be drafted and want to take the leap to the NBA. Some of these people have not signed with an agent and are just testing the waters, then will pull out (they have until May 24 to do so and retain college eligibility, international players can wait until June 12). Others have decided college is not for them (or there were coaching changes at their school) and they feel ready to get paid to play hoops, and while they know that is overseas they put their name out there. There are other reasons as well.

Here is the complete list of guys who have declared early for this year’s draft:

From American colleges:

Shaqquan Aaron, USC, 6-7, Sophomore
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure, 6-2, Junior
Edrice Adebayo, Kentucky, 6-10, Freshman
Deng Adel, Louisville, 6-7, Sophomore
Jashaun Agosto, LIU, 5-11, Freshman
Bashir Ahmed, St. John’s, 6-7, Junior
Rawle Alkins, Arizona, 6-5, Freshman
Jarrett Allen, Texas, 6-11, Freshman
Mark Alstork, Wright State, 6-5, Junior
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA, 6-10, Freshman
OG Anunoby, Indiana, 6-8, Sophomore
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State, 6-7, Sophomore
Lonzo Ball, UCLA, 6-6, Freshman
Jaylen Barford, Arkansas, 6-3, Junior
Jordan Bell, Oregon, 6-9, Junior
Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont, 6-2, Junior
Joel Berry II, North Carolina, 6-0, Junior
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana, 6-4, Junior
Antonio Blakeney, LSU, 6-4, Sophomore
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier, 6-6, Junior
Bennie Boatwright, USC, 6-10, Sophomore
Jacobi Boykins, Louisiana Tech, 6-6, Junior
Tony Bradley, North Carolina, 6-10, Freshman
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky, 6-2, Sophomore
Dillon Brooks, Oregon, 6-7, Junior
Thomas Bryant, Indiana, 6-10, Sophomore
Rodney Bullock, Providence, 6-8, Junior
Jevon Carter, West Virginia, 6-2, Junior
Clandell Cetoute, Thiel College (PA), 6-8, Junior
Joseph Chartouny, Fordham, 6-3, Sophomore
Donte’ Clark, Massachusetts, 6-4, Junior
Chris Clemons, Campbell, 5-9, Sophomore
David Collette, Utah, 6-10, Junior
John Collins, Wake Forest, 6-10, Sophomore
Zach Collins, Gonzaga, 7-1, Freshman
Chance Comanche, Arizona, 6-11, Sophomore
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall, 6-10, Junior
Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky, 6-6, Freshman
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon, 6-4, Sophomore
PJ Dozier, South Carolina, 6-6, Sophomore
Vince Edwards, Purdue, 6-8, Junior
John Egbunu, Florida, 6-11, Junior
Jon Elmore, Marshall, 6-3, Junior
Obi Enechionyia, Temple, 6-10, Junior
Drew Eubanks, Oregon State, 6-10, Sophomore
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State, 6-1, Sophomore
Tacko Fall, Central Florida, 7-6, Sophomore
Tony Farmer, Lee College (TX), 6-7, Sophomore
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky, 6-4, Freshman
Markelle Fultz, Washington, 6-4, Freshman
Harry Giles, Duke, 6-10, Freshman
Brandon Goodwin, FGCU, 6-2, Junior
Donte Grantham, Clemson, 6-8, Junior
Isaac Haas, Purdue, 7-2, Junior
Aaron Holiday, UCLA, 6-1, Sophomore
Isaac Humphries, Kentucky, 7-1, Sophomore
Chandler Hutchison, Boise State, 6-7, Junior
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State, 6-10, Freshman
Frank Jackson, Duke, 6-3, Freshman
Josh Jackson, Kansas, 6-8, Freshman
Justin Jackson, Maryland, 6-7, Freshman
Justin Jackson, North Carolina, 6-8, Junior
Alize Johnson, Missouri State, 6-9, Junior
B.J. Johnson, La Salle, 6-7, Junior
Darin Johnson, CSU-Northridge, 6-5, Junior
Jaylen Johnson, Louisville, 6-9, Junior
Robert Johnson, Indiana, 6-3, Junior
Andrew Jones, Texas, 6-4, Freshman
Kerem Kanter, Green Bay, 6-10, Junior
Ted Kapita, North Carolina State, 6-8, Freshman
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan, 5-9, Junior
Luke Kennard, Duke, 6-6, Sophomore
Braxton Key, Alabama, 6-8, Freshman
George King, Colorado, 6-6, Junior
Kyle Kuzma, Utah, 6-9, Junior
Khadeem Lattin, Oklahoma, 6-9, Junior
TJ Leaf, UCLA, 6-10, Freshman
William Lee, UAB, 6-9, Junior
Zach Lofton, Texas Southern, 6-3, Junior
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse, 6-9, Sophomore
Daryl Macon, Arkansas, 6-3, Junior
Marin Maric, Northern Illinois, 6-11, Junior
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona, 7-1, Freshman
Yante Maten, Georgia, 6-8, Junior
Markis McDuffie, Wichita State, 6-8, Sophomore
MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State, 6-7, Junior
Eric Mika, BYU, 6-10, Sophomore
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville, 6-3, Sophomore
Malik Monk, Kentucky, 6-3, Freshman
Matthew Morgan, Cornell, 6-3, Sophomore
Shaquille Morris, Wichita State, 6-8, Junior
Johnathan Motley, Baylor, 6-10, Junior
Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas, 6-8, Junior
Divine Myles, Stetson, 5-11, Junior
Derick Newton, Stetson, 6-6, Sophomore
Austin Nichols, Virginia, 6-8, Junior
Semi Ojeleye, SMU, 6-7, Junior
Cameron Oliver, Nevada, 6-8, Sophomore
Randy Onwuasor, Southern Utah, 6-3, Junior
Justin Patton, Creighton, 7-1, Freshman
L.J. Peak, Georgetown, 6-5, Junior
Theo Pinson, North Carolina, 6-6, Junior
Ivan Rabb, California, 6-11, Sophomore
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State, 6-4, Junior
Devin Robinson, Florida, 6-8, Junior
Josh Robinson, Austin Peay, 6-2, Junior
Martavius Robinson, Lewis & Clark CC (Illinois), 6-10, Sophomore
Maverick Rowan, North Carolina State, 6-7, Sophomore
Corey Sanders, Rutgers, 6-2, Sophomore
Victor Sanders, Idaho, 6-5, Junior
Jaaron Simmons, Ohio, 6-1, Junior
Kobi Simmons, Arizona, 6-5, Freshman
Fred Sims Jr., Chicago State, 6-4, Sophomore
Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State, 6-3, Freshman
Zach Smith, Texas Tech, 6-8, Junior
Kamau Stokes, Kansas State, 6-0, Sophomore
Edmond Sumner, Xavier, 6-6, Sophomore
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue, 6-9, Sophomore
Jayson Tatum, Duke, 6-8, Freshman
Matt Taylor, New Mexico State, 6-4, Junior
James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan, 6-10, Sophomore
Stephen Thompson Jr., Oregon State, 6-4, Sophomore
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State, 7-1, Junior
Melo Trimble, Maryland, 6-3, Junior
Craig Victor II, LSU, 6-9, Junior
Moritz Wagner, Michigan, 6-11, Sophomore
Tevonn Walker, Valparaiso, 6-2, Junior
Antone Warren, Antelope Valley CC (CA), 6-10, Sophomore
Thomas Welsh, UCLA, 7-1, Junior
Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan, 6-3, Junior
Cecil Williams, Central Michigan, 6-6, Junior
Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga, 6-9, Junior
Kam Williams, Ohio State, 6-2, Junior
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga, 6-3, Junior
Christian Wilson, Texas-San Antonio, 6-2, Junior
D.J. Wilson, Michigan, 6-10, Junior
Omer Yurtseven, North Carolina State, 7-1, Freshman

International prospects:

Ege Arar, Galatasaray (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Laurynas Beliauskas, Neptunas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Terrence Bieshaar, Joventut (Spain), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Simon Birgander, Clavijo (Spain), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Laurynas Birutis, Vytautas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Luka Bozic, Zagreb (Croatia), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Vlatko Cancar, Mega Leks (Serbia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Leo Cizmic, Sevilla (Spain), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Wesley Alves da Silva, Paulistano (Brazil), 6-7, 1996 DOB
George de Paula, Paulistano (Brazil), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Berkan Durmaz, Tofas (Turkey), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Martynas Echodas, Siauliai (Lithuania), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Cyrille Eliezer-Vanerot, Levallois (France), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Aquiles Ferreira, Pinheiros (Brazil), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Diego Flaccadori, Trento (Italy), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Tolga Gecim, Banvit (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Yoan Granvorka, Nancy (France), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Egemen Guven, Karsiyaka (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Isaiah Hartenstein, Zalgiris (Lithuania), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Karlis Helmanis, RTU Riga (Latvia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Aleksa Ilic, Buducnost (Montenegro), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Jonathan Jeanne, Nancy (France), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Alpha Kaba, Mega Leks (Serbia), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Verners Kohs, GBA Sparta (Czech Republic), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Antonios Koniaris, PAOK (Greece), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Arnoldas Kulboka, Baunach (Germany), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Rodions Kurucs, Barcelona (Spain), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Axel Louissaint, Lugano (Switzerland), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Michail Lountzis, Panathinaikos (Greece), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Gytis Masiulis, Zalgiris (Lithuania), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Lovro Mazalin, Zadar (Croatia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Regimantas Miniotas, Vytautas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Kostja Mushidi, Mega Leks (Serbia), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Margiris Normantas, Lietuvos Rytas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Frank Ntilikina, Strasbourg (France), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Elie Okobo, Pau Orthez (France), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Viny Okouo, Unicaja (Spain), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Ayberk Olmaz, Istanbul BSB (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Lucas Pereira, Pinheiros (Brazil), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Martynas Sajus, Starogard (Poland), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Borisa Simanic, Crvena Zvezda (Serbia), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Nik Slavica, Cibona (Croatia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Berk Ugurlu, Fenerbahce (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Kristupas Zemaitis, Vytautas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Zou Yuchen, Bayi Fubang (China), 6-7, 1996 DOB

Celtics fluster Bulls with floor spacing and dirty play, take 3-2 series lead

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The Bulls couldn’t break free. The Celtics look ready to break out.

Boston beat Chicago 108-97 in Game 5 Wednesday, winning its third straight to take a 3-2 lead in the first-round series. The Celtics pulled away with a 13-0 fourth-quarter run, which was boosted by two Bulls technical fouls – the second on Robin Lopez, who was rightfully aggrieved by an uncalled Jae Crowder leg-lock.

That’ll generate more talk about Boston being dirty, especially in the midst of a chippy series. But at least nobody will be discussing the Celtics being a historically weak No. 1 seed, which drowned everything after Chicago won the series’ first two games in Boston. The Warriors and Cavaliers are the only other teams to win three straight games this postseason, the type of elite company the Celtics would like to join.

Close the series in Game 6 on Friday, and Boston silences the most extreme criticism of its present.

“We’ve got to finish it,” said Isaiah Thomas, who scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. “We know Game 6 is going to be a big game, and they’re going to fight for their lives. But we’ve got to go in there and finish it.”

The Celtics became just the third team in the last four years to win three straight after dropping the first two games of a series. The Trail Blazers (vs. Clippers) and Hornets (vs. Heat) did it in last year’s first round. Portland advanced. Charlotte didn’t.

Overall, here’s how teams up 3-2 and facing a road Game 6 in a 2-2-1-1-1 series have fared:

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The Celtics’ odds of advancing might be even higher than that. Their 11-point win tonight felt like it could have been much more lopsided.

Boston shot just 9-for-40 on 3-pointers (23%), but many of those were good looks and the high volume of attempts bodes well. They were a product of a high-functioning offense, and in the long run, more of those will fall. Only a few franchises – Warriors, Cavaliers, Hawks, Mavericks, Pacers – have ever attempted so many 3s in a playoff game, though nobody had ever shot so inefficiently on so many attempts.

The Celtics more than compensated for their cold outside shooting everywhere else. They shot 29-for-48 on 2-pointers (60%) and and 23-for-23 on free throws (100%), getting high-percentage looks and drawing fouls thanks to their floor spacing.

The Bulls, on the other hand, wasted a throwback game from Dwyane Wade (26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists). Avery Bradley (24 points on 11-of-19 shooting) tightly defended Jimmy Butler (14 points on 6-of-15 shooting), and that matchup won’t any easier for Butler.

Maybe Butler will answer the call, but Chicago is running out of advantages. Boston even had higher offensive- and defensive-rebounding percentages than Chicago. And Thomas didn’t carry anything, even the Celtics to victory.

Boston again looks like the complete team it had been for much of the season.

Bucks’ Khris Middleton, dealing with illness, misses practice

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ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) — Bucks wing Khris Middleton missed practice with an illness that has been bothering the Bucks’ second-leading scorer (14.7 points) all week.

Middleton was 3 of 8 for eight points in 35 minutes in the 118-93 Game 5 loss in Toronto that gave the Raptors a 3-2 series lead. Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd said he didn’t think the illness was a factor, and that Middleton had good looks and played well defensively. He expected Middleton to start on Thursday and said he wasn’t pondering any lineup changes for Game 6.

The Bucks got a day off from practice then returned to practice Wednesday after a brief break from what has been an increasingly rugged series.

After getting blown out in Game 3 by the Bucks, the Raptors won the next two games in part by being more physical and slowing down Milwaukee.

Sometimes, a young team needs to learn from failure to get better.

Kidd hopes his players build on the lessons learned from a stinker of a Game 5 in their opening-round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors. They need to regroup quickly to avoid elimination when the Raptors and Bucks meet Thursday night at the Bradley Center.

“Yeah, I hope so,” Kidd said when asked about whether his players learned from the blowout loss. “Today, I thought guys were focused, understanding what we have to do. It’s not hard, but for us the process of being able to be consistent is the one thing that we struggle with.”

Workaholic forward Giannis Antetokounmpo might have been the only player who didn’t want a breather.

“I don’t know, for me, I didn’t need an off-day. But for sure some guys played a lot of minutes, their bodies are sore,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think for some guys it’s good to get some rest so we can bring more energy tomorrow.”

For all of his athleticism, the 22-year-old Antetokounmpo lacks playoff experience when compared to the postseason-tested Raptors.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton are playing in their second career playoff series after the Bucks lost in six games to top-seeded Chicago in 2015. Antetokounmpo’s role has changed now that he’s the focal point of the offense, so he faces more defensive scrutiny.

The team surrounding Antetokounmpo and Middleton has been almost completely made over since then, with injured forward Jabari Parker and center John Henson the only other holdovers. Henson has only played three minutes against Toronto.

Two other starters, guard Malcolm Brogdon and center Thon Maker, are rookies. Even center Greg Monroe, a seven-year veteran who provides scoring punch off the bench, is making his playoff debut. Fourth-year players Tony Snell (Bulls) and Matthew Dellavedova (Cavaliers) joined the Bucks this season, brought to Milwaukee in part because of their postseason experience.

In contrast, the Raptors have been through about every conceivable playoff situation after losing to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals last season. Led by one of the best backcourts in the game in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Toronto is no stranger to adversity.

“You definitely see that experience come into play and we just understand the moment probably a little bit more than them. That’s not to take away (anything) from them,” DeRozan said. “They are a great team, a young team and this is definitely going to be an experience they will learn from and carry over but for now it’s something we have to keep in mind and understand the moment of going into every single game … to try and close this thing out.”

Milwaukee’s transition game is off track with 31 turnovers over the last two contests.

“That’s the physicality part, because it’s the playoffs, because it’s more intense. You get away with slaps, holds, grabs and that’s a trick of the trade,” said Jason Terry, a 17-year veteran who is averaging about 10 minutes a game off the bench for the Bucks this series.

“If you haven’t (been) through that, you don’t know it until you face it,” Terry said. “I think for us being a young team, now that we’ve seen it four or five games consecutively, hopefully now we can adjust.”

NOTES:

 

Jimmy Butler hits contested deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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Shooting buzzer-beaters is especially difficult because the defender knows your deadline to release the shot. The threat of a pump fake, drive to another location or pass disappears as the seconds tick down.

On the other hand, Jimmy Butler is very good.