Bulls beat Heat in overtime, but neither team looks ready for the playoffs

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The Bulls and the Heat are far and away the top two teams in the Eastern Conference standings, so it’s only natural that their nationally televised tilt on Thursday night would be billed as a potential preview of the conference finals. But if either of them play the way they did in this one for an extended period during the playoffs, they’ll be lucky to make it that far.

Chicago outlasted Miami in overtime 96-86, but with Derrick Rose struggling on the night to finish with just two points and eight assists in 25 minutes on 1-of-13 shooting, and Miami finishing with just two points on free throws while failing to score from the field in the extra session, neither team impressed or looked even a little bit like one that could contend for the championship.

Rose played for the Bulls, but was largely ineffective. Unless he can stay on the floor for the remainder of the regular season to build some chemistry with his teammates, Chicago, despite having the league’s best regular season record, may be faced with challenges that it isn’t prepared to deal with as early as the second round of the playoffs.

Miami, meanwhile, has its own issues.

LeBron James finished with 30 points on 11-of-24 shooting, but missed a free throw with 11.4 seconds left that could have made it a two-possession game. That left the door open for C.J. Watson to tie it with a three near the end of regulation, but those are just small details in the big picture of problems that Miami faces as the playoffs rapidly approach.

The Heat continue to tinker with lineups and rotations at this late point in the regular season, seemingly unsure of who fits where, especially where the team’s bigs are concerned. Udonis Haslem got the start in this one, but played just 11 minutes while the bulk of the time at his position was given to Ronny Turiaf off the bench. Joel Anthony saw a few minutes of action too, after receiving a DNP-CD in Tuesday’s loss to the Celtics.

Shane Battier played 31 minutes off the bench for the Heat, and while few would argue with his basketball IQ, it’s fairly clear that he’s no longer an effective on-court player at this point, especially in extended minutes for a team trying to get to the Finals. Battier’s defense hasn’t lived up to its inflated reputation in years, and on this night, he was a game-worst -34 in the plus-minus statistic that, admittedly, is only useful when one wants it to be.

The outcome of this game wasn’t important for its impact on the regular season standings, but it did say something about where these two teams are as we head towards the playoffs.

The Bulls are firmly in control of the one-seed in the East heading into the postseason, with this win helping them solidify a four-game lead over the Heat in the standings. Miami doesn’t figure to fall out of the two-spot, sitting comfortably in second place, four and a half games ahead of the Pacers.

Neither of the beasts of the Eastern Conference have anything to play for in the season’s final two weeks in terms of playoff positioning. But they both have plenty of work to do to prepare for that postseason run.

Boston and New York are the teams playing the most cohesive brand of basketball right now; both are hot, and both are to be feared. Despite the regular season success sustained by both Miami and Chicago, the top teams in the conference (at least on paper) have a lot to figure out before the playoffs begin if they’re going to position themselves to make that expected run deep into the postseason.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.