Taj Gibson

PBT Playoff Preview: Chicago vs. Philadelphia

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SEASON RECORDS:
Chicago: 50-16 (1 seed)
Philadelphia: 35-31 (8 seed)

SEASON SERIES:

Chicago won 2-1

OFFENSE/ DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possessions):

Offense: Chicago 107.4 (5th in NBA), Philadelphia 103.9 (20th in NBA)
Defense: Chicago 98.3 (2nd in NBA), Philadelphia 99.2 (3rd in NBA)

THREE KEY BULLS:

Derrick Rose: Last season’s MVP has had an up-and-down season thanks to injuries. Rose is a better playmaker than he was last season, but his points per game, field goal percentage, and 3-point percentage have all taken a significant dip, and he only played in 39 of Chicago’s 66 games. The incredibly deep Bulls were able to secure the East’s best record anyways, but there’s no way they will win a championship if Rose doesn’t return to form in the playoffs.

Rip Hamilton: In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls looked like they were one offensive weapon short against Miami’s relentless strong-side traps of Derrick Rose. In the off-season, the Bulls acquired Hamilton with the hope he could be that weapon. Hamilton averaged 11.7 points per game this season, and while he’s not the player he was in Detroit anymore, he still works as hard as any player in the league off the ball offensively and can make shots from all over the floor.

Joakim Noah: Even though the Bulls are a much more dangerous offensive team this season than they were last year, they’re still a defense-first team, and will only go as far as their defense can carry them in the playoffs. Noah is the Bulls’ defensive quarterback, and his uncanny ability to handle and pass the ball for a center gives the Bulls an extra dimension offensively when they keep him involved.

THREE KEY 76ers:

Andre Iguodala: After years being miscast as a #1 scoring option, Iguodala is finally being allowed to play the role he was meant to play: an efficient point forward who does work without the ball and is one of the three best perimeter defenders in the league. Iguodala’s points per game are down this season, but his FG and 3PT% are both way up, and he leads the 76ers in assists per game.

Lou Williams: Even though Williams didn’t make a single start for Philadelphia this season, he managed to lead the team in both points per game and PER. Williams isn’t a high-percentage shooter, but he makes a lot of threes and rarely turns the ball over, which can make him a headache for any defense as a scoring option off the bench. C.J. Watson is a great defensive point guard, so Williams will have his hands full, but in a series that should be as low-scoring as this one, a few timely shots from Williams could make all the difference in the world.

Elton Brand/Thaddeus Young:Okay, so I’m cheating a little bit with this one, but it’s hard to separate the two members of Philadelphia’s power forward platoon. Young is well, Young, left-handed, and likes to do his damage inside, while the veteran Brand is mainly a pick-and-pop player at this stage in his career, but both players have extremely similar numbers and are an integral part of Philadelphia’s attack. Since Carlos Boozer has been known to struggle on both ends of the floor in playoff situations, particularly on defense, Philadelphia will need Brand and Young to “win” the matchup against Boozer if they want to pull off the upset.

OUTLOOK:

This should be a good first-round test for the Bulls. This should be a hard-fought, defensive series, which means the Bulls won’t be able to coast to many blowout victories. On top of that, Philadelphia’s defense was actually statistically better than Miami’s this season, which will allow the Bulls to see if they have what it takes to “break” a top-five defense in a playoff series this season. The Bulls will be tested in this series, but I don’t think they’ll have much trouble passing.<

PREDICTION:

Chicago in 5 hard-fought games.

Suns coach Earl Watson cautions on support for marijuana use a “slippery slope”

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 30:  Head coach Earl Watson of the Phoenix Suns reacts during the second half of the NBA game against the Golden State Warriors at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 30, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Warriors defeated the Suns 106 -100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr is a thoughtful, measured adult who made a very rational decision: He was battling debilitating back pain that was keeping him away from the Warriors, so he chose to try marijuana to try to ease that pain. It didn’t work for Kerr, but he advocated for professional sports leagues to have a more open mind toward allowing the drug to be used for pain management.

Suns’ coach Earl Watson is a thoughtful, measured adult who comes from a very different world than Kerr, and that gives him a different perspective. Watson’s story is that of a child who grew up in poverty, surrounded by violence, in Kansas City, and used basketball to pull himself out of that world.

Watson urged caution in NBA coaches endorsing the use of marijuana, speaking to Chris Haynes of ESPN.

“I think our rhetoric on it has to be very careful because you have a lot of kids where I’m from that’s reading this, and they think [marijuana use is] cool,” Watson told ESPN on Saturday after the Suns’ 138-109 loss to the Warriors. “It’s not cool. Where I’m from, you don’t get six fouls to foul out. You get three strikes. One strike leads to another. I’m just being honest with you, so you have to be very careful with your rhetoric…

“I think it would have to come from a physician — not a coach,” Watson said. “And for me, I’ve lived in that other life [of crime and drugs]. I’m from that area, so I’ve seen a lot of guys go through that experience of using it and doing other things with that were both illegal. And a lot of those times, those guys never make it to the NBA, they never make it to college, and somehow it leads to something else, and they never make it past 18.

“So when we really talk about it and we open up that, I call it that slippery slope. We have to be very careful on the rhetoric and how we speak on it and how we express it and explain it to the youth.”

There is no doubt that as a society, the United States is moving toward the legalization of marijuana. More and more states move that way each election, and the generational shift in attitudes toward the drug is an unstoppable trend.

How the NBA (and other professional sports leagues) adjust their rules and procedures in dealing with this will be a topic in the coming years. With that is the issue Watson brings up — the image the NBA projects on the issue. NBA players are free to drink alcohol, but it can’t impact them at work (like just about every other job), but the NBA doesn’t want to be seen as pro-drinking. It will have to find a way to walk that same line with marijuana.

Dirk Nowitzki will not fade away: “I’m all-in. I want to play.”

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 21:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts against the Oklahoma City Thunder during game three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on April 21, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Dirk Nowitzki has played in just two of the Mavericks’ last 13 games, and five games total all season. When he has played he hasn’t been his vintage self, he’s been slowed by injury. This is a 38-year-old battling a sore Achilles, and Dallas doesn’t want to see its future Hall of Famer limping off into retirement, and he is out indefinitely. They are being cautious.

But make no mistake, Nowitzki wants to play. He doesn’t see himself as done.

Here is what he told Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I’m all-in. I want to play,” Nowitzki said in front of his locker after his teammates pulled off the Mavs’ most lopsided win of the season, a 107-82 victory over the Chicago Bulls that improved Dallas’ record to a Western Conference-worst 4-15. “This is obviously not a career-ending injury that I’ve got. It’s something that just keeps lingering unfortunately. I can hopefully get over it.

“There’s still a lot of season left. December just started. We know that there’s a lot of games coming, so hopefully sometime soon I’ll be out there and then stay out there. I don’t want to jump in and out of the lineup with soreness or fight this whole year. I’d love to be healthy and stay out there once I go….

“It’s frustrating for me,” said Nowitzki, a 19-year veteran who has missed more than 10 games in a season only once before in his career. “The whole situation is frustrating to be dealing with something I never have before in my career, so it’s tough. But once I’m out there, I don’t want the same thing to happen again that just happened last week, so I want to make sure now it’s good to go. At this stage of my career, I don’t move well anyways, so if I’m out there at 80-90 percent, I don’t think I’m a big help. I want to make sure my body’s responding the right way and we’ll go from there.”

At this point, Dallas has dug too deep a hole to climb back up and make the playoffs, but Nowitzki doesn’t want the Kobe Bryant send-off tour. When he returns, Dallas will get better.

Watch Nowitzki get in a sweat before a game now — even when he is not playing he puts in a thorough workout — and you see a model for how other players should take both their craft and conditioning more seriously. He is meticulous about the details but is going to get in his work. The problem for him is with an Achilles it’s going to be about rest. He can get treatments, but time is his biggest ally.

Being patient sucks. But that’s where we are with getting to see Nowitzki play again.

Reggie Jackson to return to Pistons lineup Sunday vs. Orlando

AUBURN HILLS, MI - APRIL 24: Reggie Jackson #1 of the Detroit Pistons tries to get around the first quarter defense of Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Palace of Auburn Hills on April 24, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Detroit Pistons’ playoff dreams hinged on them being able to hang around until point guard Reggie Jackson got back from this thumb and knee injuries. They have done just that — the Pistons are 11-10 and would be the eighth seed if the playoffs started today.

And now they get Jackson back. Stan Van Gundy made the announcement Sunday at shootaround, before the team takes on the Orlando Magic.

It will take a few games to get his conditioning back, but this is huge for Detroit. Jackson running the pick-and-roll with Andre Drummond is at the heart of Detroit’s offense – the Pistons were 2.3 points per 100 possessions better with the ball in his hands. Ish Smith played well for the Pistons in his absence — 10.8 points per game, 6.4 assists, and he’s been solid. Move his playmaking to the second unit and suddenly the Pistons become a lot more dangerous.

Jakob Poeltl with huge poster dunk for Raptors. Yes, Jakob Poeltl. (VIDEO)

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The scouting report on Jakob Poeltl coming out of Utah said he could run the floor well and he was a good finisher around the rim.

But we didn’t expect this.

During the Raptors win Sunday against the stumbling Hawks, Poeltl filled the lane on the break, got the rock, and nobody was going to stop that finish. Least of all Tim Hardaway Jr., he just ends up in the poster.