PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Brooklyn Nets vs. Chicago Bulls

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SEASON RECORDS

Brooklyn: 49-33, fourth seed in East

Chicago: 45-37, fifth seed in East

SEASON SERIES

The Bulls won 3-1, but one win came by one and another came by two.

KEY INJURIES

Chicago: Derrick Rose is out until he’s not, and at this point, the Bulls can’t really worry about him. They can, however, fret about Joakim Noah, who might miss Game 1, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Brooklyn: offense 105.0 (9th best in NBA), defense 103.6 (18th in NBA)

Chicago: offense 100.4 (24th in NBA), defense 100.3 (5th in NBA)

Differential: Nets +1.4 (12th in NBA), Bulls +0.1 (15th in NBA)

THREE KEYS FOR BROOKLYN:

Follow Reggie Evans’ lead: Playing a team as physical and hard-working as Chicago at least four games in a row will be a shock to the system for the Nets, but they can’t let it overwhelm them. They should look to Reggie Evans, who embraces physical play and even dishes out his share of physicality. If his teammates wilt under that pressure, this will be a long series for Brooklyn. If they embrace it, their talent will give them the edge.

Force feed Brook Lopez: Lopez is one of the league’s most skilled big men, and even against Chicago’s plus interior defense, Lopez should go to work in the post. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson have been playing through injury, and Lopez will be a real test for them if they’re not fully healthy. By force-feeding Lopez, the Nets should know early whether they have an advantage in this spot.

Tell Gerald Wallace not to worry about shooting: Wallace admitted he’s lost confidence, and it shows in his shot. But Brooklyn can’t afford to completely lose Wallace for this playoff run. The Nets have enough other players capable of making jumpers, namely Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Let Wallace focus on defending, rebounding and passing. He can still be a positive player for the Nets as long as they don’t let his poor shooting completely take him off his game.

THREE KEYS FOR CHICAGO:

Pressure Deron Williams: The questions about Williams being out of shape have quieted since Avery Johnson was fired, but there’s no denying Williams struggled early in the season. If Williams upped his workouts to get back in shape during the season, perhaps he’ll run out of gas as he plays more than he has in a few years. It’s worth the Bulls’ effort to try to gas him. Either way, whatever the Bulls can do to get the ball away from the Nets’ playmaker – who especially excels in the halfcourt offense typically featured during the playoffs – the better.

Put Nets in position to foul: The Nets commit the second-fewest fouls per field-goal attempt, partially because they don’t always defend with great physicality. Neither Carlos Boozer nor Luol Deng take many free throws, but they’re both capable of getting to the rim more often than they do, and they might be able to do so in this series without a ton of resistance.

If all else fails, ride Nate Robinson: Robinson has had several great games late this season, though it’s an admittedly scary proposition to run the offense through him. But if the short-handed Bulls fall behind, a spark like Robinson might be their only hope. They can’t be afraid to jump on the back of the player who’s capable of lifting his game to near-elite levels if they’re in a pinch.

OUTLOOK

Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls have never been the lower seed in a playoff series before now, and this role seems to suit them well. The Bulls will rely heavily on a second-year player who snuck into the first round (Jimmy Butler), a much-maligned power forward (Carlos Boozer) and an undersized point guard few teammates wanted a year ago (Nate Robinson).

If Joakim Noah gets healthy – it might be too late for that, because the Bulls didn’t rest him enough during the regular season – and Taj Gibson stays healthy, Chicago has a very real chance. Heck, at that point, the Bulls might even be the favorite.

But that seems unlikely. Noah hasn’t looked right recently, and without him playing at full strength, the Bulls take a big hit. This series will swing on Noah’s health.

The Nets have all the talent money can buy, and their big-contract players give them a talent advantage over Chicago. But the Bulls have the coaching advantage.

PREDICTION:

Bulls in seven

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

Associated Press
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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

Associated Press
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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.