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.

Kobe Bryant says LeBron James has earned the right to take a rest (VIDEO)

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Former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was a pretty consistent player in the NBA. Save for his final injury-laden seasons and the lockout year of 2011-12, Bryant played in no fewer than 65 regular season games in a single season.

Coaches also had no reason or want to ask Bryant — a notorious worker — to sit out in order to rest. That wasn’t really on the menu, and Bryant knew that.

Speaking to ESPN’s First Take, Bryant said no coach really asked him to ever take a rest, “I’ve never been approached by a coach and asked to rest.”

Bryant remarked that he took queues from Michael Jordan during tough stretches of the season — back-to-backs or four games in five night scenarios — where he could switch his game up, floating from perimeter to post, in order to save energy during those matchups.

Bryant also said during the same interview that he understands the complexity of the modern game, and that players like LeBron James deserve to take a rest if they’ve earned it.

“LeBron has done so much for the game. He’s earned the opportunity to take a rest,” said Bryant.

The debate on this subject will continue, it seems.

Phil Jackson’s reaction to Kristaps Porzingis getting turned upside down feels about right

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New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.

That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.

Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.

Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.

Jimmy Butler won’t pick LeBron over Durant as toughest matchup in NBA, and for good reason

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.

He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.

Via Twitter:

The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.

Smart move, Jimmy.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.