Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer, Joakim Noah

The Inbounds: The Chicago Bulls can defy expectations again. Is that a good thing?

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

The Bulls were supposed to be a middle-seed in 2011, maybe a 4 or a 5 seed. They took the No.1 overall seed in the East.

Chicago was supposed to be hampered by injuries, particularly those to Derrick Rose in 2012, falling back maybe to a 2nd or 3rd seed. Again, No.1 with a bull-et. (Get it? Because they’re the Bulls? And it’s a Bull-et? Get… OK, sorry.)

This year, Rose is out recovering from ACL surgery, as highlighted extensively by Adidas, and most are not targeting them for a top-four seed, expecting a fall back to the pack. They revamped their roster in terms of the bench and many feel not for the better. Carlos Boozer’s another year older, Luol Deng had a long, hard summer, and Kirk Hinrich is starting at point guard.

But let’s think about this for a minute. Is it really smart to dismiss not only what the Bulls accomplished, but how? The Bulls the past two seasons have not succeeded based on superior talent, in truth. Yes, Luol Deng has really improved offensively and put himself in the top 5-10 of players defensively. Carlos Boozer is so overrated hes’ underrated, and suffers from the same kind of misconception that Joe Johnson deals with. Joakim Noah is very quietly, ironically, one of the better centers in the league at both ends of the floor. They have the talent, but they also have the system. Thibodeau relies on veterans making veteran plays offensively and a barbed-wire trap surrounded by landmines as his defensive construct. Anyone can be good defensively in Thibodeau’s system, or at least invisibly poor, because all you must do is what you’re taught and do so with emphasis and effort. You can be as unskilled or slow as any player in the league, and if you learn the things he teaches, you’re going to be good enough to not be a problem on the floor.

Put it this way, the Knicks can’t put Steve Novak on the floor for stretches because if they do, he leaves them vulnerable defensively, despite Woodson’s excellent defensive coaching. Novak could exist in the Bulls’ system, and while still a liability, be less of one.

So if your liabilities aren’t really liabilities and your strengths are still strength, why are we so quick to shove the Bulls off the top rungs of the Eastern ladder? The Heat will be resting stars as they always do, the Celtics, much the same. Indiana is certainly a threat but it’s hard to argue they’re better than the Bulls at their best. So why can’t the Bulls win the division, and get a top seed?

There’s no reason. That’s how good Tom Thibodeau is. (Which makes the Bulls’ continued all-too-typical wrangling with him over his contract all the more maddening, and that’s all I’ll say about that for now.)

But there’s a question beyond that. Is that what Bulls fans should want? Is that what the Bulls organization should want? Is that the best outcome for them?

It’s hard to say that the Bulls are overachieving if this is the third year they would reach that kind of height, but it’s still true. They’re playing at a level which defies pretty common rational analysis of how good they are, as a sum of their parts. A team can definitely reach higher as a composite and is more than just the individual talents. But is it this much? The results of the playoffs would indicate no. You can toss out last year, sure, if you want to go with Rose’s injury and the emotional impact on the team leading to the loss to the Sixers, but remember, that same team had problems with Indiana, always in close games in a short-but-fierce five-game series, then really had some emotional swings vs. Atlanta, before finally winning Game 1 vs. Miami and looking unstoppable, then getting railroaded like Wile E. Coyote. They just needed a little white ACME sign.

The Bulls need so much to go their way, for Boozer to play as an elite player he’s never really been, for Deng to shoot the lights out when he’s a good but inconsistent mid-range shooter, for the bench mob to constantly overwhelm opponents with hustle (or veteran savvy, I suppose, this year, with the bench significantly different). They can still look really good but eventually, they’ll run up against a mirror that shows how good they really are, and when that comes, they tend to mix down to about the team we thought they’d be in the beginning. It doesn’t take away from what Thibs has done, if anything, it emphasizes it. But we also can’t realistically look at this team as a title contender, and if that’s the case, what’s the point?

The maddening part is that Rose’s injury leaves so much in the air. If the team gels and plays together, it’s going to excite the team and its fans, prompting more belief. If they don’t somehow reach the impossible dream, then it will be crushing, but still be filled with “Well, Derrick wasn’t really back yet.” Rose’s injury causes a constant level of self-doubt, not only towards any positive regard for the team, but for any criticisms as well.

There’s no real way to evaluate the Bulls, other than “really good, but probably not a title team.”

A year in which they did not reach expectations, did not exceed them, just kind of slumped to a close could bring another lottery miracle, a younger player with talent at the least. It could force changes from the front office desperate not to waste Rose’s youth, and a move to amnesty Boozer. There could be change and progress, versus the current results which are just good enough to be able to justify not making any sort of bold move. How do you say “we have to get better” when you were the best team in your conference?

And the answer to that is “by examining the level of superstar talent you need to win a title in today’s NBA.” Rose is a special talent, regardless of his limitations, and has a remarkable future ahead of him. But another year of taking a hammering in the playoffs, fresh off his recovery, would work contrary to the long-term goals.

The Bulls are stuck between a Rose and a hard place, and the only way to facilitate change may be for them to not do the thing they’re best at: playing at a level far beyond what may be sustainable in the playoffs long-term.

Draymond Green picks up flagrant foul for shoulder hit to LeBron (VIDEO)

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors fouls LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers at ORACLE Arena on January 16, 2017 in Oakland, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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If this were the NFL, that would be a clean tackle — led with his shoulder, not his helmet.

Turns out in the NBA, that’s not allowed.

Draymond Green picked up a Flagrant 1 foul for the hit above on LeBron James. It was a transition play, and Green came in looking for a steal and maybe to send a little message, and in doing so dropped LeBron with a shoulder. You can see the video above.

The refs got this right (sorry Chris Webber). Did LeBron sell that call a little? Sure. But that was unnecessary contact, the exact definition of a Fragrant 1. Sorry Cavs fans, but that was not excessive and deserving of an ejection.

The Warriors torched the Cavaliers in the first half putting up 34 fast break points, racking up 26 assists, and leading 78-49. You read that score right. That’s at the half.

Adam Silver refutes George Karl: No reason to believe NBA has steroid issue

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  NBA commissioner, Adam Silver speaks during a press conference prior to the NBA match between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena on January 12, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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George Karl alleged the NBA has a steroid issue.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, via USA Today:

I’ll just say our testing is state of the art. I have no reason to believe whatsoever that we have an issue, either as the result of testing or as the result of other information that comes to the league office.

“I’d say that in most sports where there are issues, even when players do not test positive, usually there is some chatter that there is something going on. Other than what George Karl wrote in his book, there is no chatter whatsoever in the league. Obviously, many reporters are in this room who cover the NBA; presumably if they thought there was an issue, they would be writing about it.

“Having said that, we take allegations of performance-enhancing drugs or drug abuse of any kind incredibly seriously. I’m sure we will go through George Karl’s book, others, not me, in the league office, word by word, suggestion by suggestion, and ferret out whether there’s anything to it.

“For us, it doesn’t matter what the source is. If somebody is — especially if it’s a Hall of Fame-caliber coach registering those sort of allegations against the league, we will take them seriously. But standing here today, I have absolutely no reason to believe there’s any truth to those allegations.”

The NBA tests for performance-enhancing drugs, and those tests have produced few positive results, especially by stars. If the league believes in its process, that should say everything as far as Silver is concerned.

But drug-testing is a never-ending game of cat and mouse. Drug developers will find ways to beat testers, who will adjust with new tests, which will prompt the other side to create new drugs and masking agents, which…

Is the NBA ahead of the curve right now? Silver says it is.

He better be right. He’ll look mighty foolish if he’s not.

John Wall breaks out Shammgod in highlight, Wizards beat Trail Blazers

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Determined not to give the Portland Trail Blazers’ elite guards any feel-good shots, the Washington Wizards knocked down a few of their own and got rolling.

Bradley Beal scored 25 points and John Wall had 24 as the Wizards took a page out of the Trail Blazers’ playbook by hitting 13 3-pointers in a comfortable 120-101 victory on Monday afternoon.

Washington, which relies on the 3-point shot less than almost any other NBA team, made 9 of 13 3-pointers in a 75-point first half and was 13 of 23 in the game.

“When we play defense and get rebounds and get out in transition, teams (have) to collapse when I’m penetrating,” said Wall, who was 10 of 17 from the floor. “We moved the ball very well, and guys were knocking down shots and shooting with confidence.”

Confidence came from a 4 of 5 start and a 10-0 lead as Beal was hot early. He and Wall outplayed Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who Wizards coach Scott Brooks said combined to be as good as any backcourt in the league.

Lillard led the Blazers with 22 points and McCollum had 12, but they combined to shoot 11 of 29 from the floor.

“Just staying down on his pump fakes, making it tough for him, using my length to disturb him and just making sure I keep him in front of me because he’s one of the quickest guards in the league,” said Wizards guard Kelly Oubre, whose 18 points were one shy of his career high.

The Wizards led by as many as 30 on the way to their 12th consecutive home victory and their fourth win in five games. They limited the Blazers to 8 of 26 shooting from beyond the arc, part of which was self-inflicted.

“I thought our whole team struggled offensively,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “We didn’t pass and move. We didn’t do things that make us a good offensive basketball team.”

Washington did plenty of things to look like a good offensive basketball team, and Brooks was particularly proud of his team’s ball movement that helped put the game out of reach.

“I think early in the game when guys get good looks and they see the ball go in, they get confident, they start believing,” Lillard said. “Later in the game when we started to contest shots and have more of a presence, it didn’t really impact them because they had already seen the ball go in three or four times on the perimeter.”

THE HOOK

When Marcin Gortat‘s layup with 4:24 left in the third quarter made it 95-65, Stotts had enough and pulled his starting five because he didn’t think the game was going anywhere.

“He’s the coach,” Lillard said. “He took us out of the game, and that was it.”

STREAK OVER

McCollum’s streak of consecutive games with 25-plus points ended at eight. Beal tried to take McCollum off his game early by being physical, and foul pressure mounted.

“We were getting our heads beat in, we didn’t execute our offense, I got some fouls early (and) the game got out of hand,” McCollum said.

MLK DAY

Wearing a shirt with the message: “His dream inspired the world. Never stop dreaming,” Beal took the microphone to address the crowd of 17,395 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Brooks said he always stops by the MLK Memorial during his walks around the National Mall, and Stotts said about half the team went to the National Museum of African American History and Culture after practice Monday.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: McCollum became the eighth player to score 1,000 points this season, joining Russell Westbrook, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant and Isaiah Thomas. … F Maurice Harkless, who was questionable with a left calf injury, was 0 of 5 with no points.

Wizards: Improved to 10-2 when F Otto Porter has at least three 3-pointers.. … Their last 12-game home winning streak came in 1989 as the Bullets. … F Markieff Morris had 17 points and 13 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.

 

Joel Embiid was dunking, blocking, leading Sixers past Bucks (VIDEOS)

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Joel Embiid is making his case to be in the All-Star Game in more places than Twitter.

He made it on the court Monday with a dominant second half — 18 points on six shots — to lead the Sixers to a 113-104 win over the Bucks. The Sixers are 5-2 in 2017, and this gives them a couple of quality wins.

Embiid was both throwing it down with authority — as you can see above — and he was racking up blocked shots as well. He was also showing Jabari Parker you need to go strong to the rim against him, or you get sent home without lunch.

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