Brooklyn Nets center Lopez is fouled by Chicago Bulls forward Deng in front of Bulls center Mohammed in the second half of their NBA basketball game in New York

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

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.

James scores 33, Cavaliers reach second straight NBA Finals

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TORONTO — LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It’s the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it’s his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

“I had to bring my game,” he said. “I had to be in attack mode from the beginning.”

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith had 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday’s Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered “Let’s go, Raptors! Let’s go, Raptors!” throughout most of the final three minutes.

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland’s nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

TIP INS

Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. … Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

Reports: P.J. Carlesimo to join Sixers staff as Brett Brown’s lead assistant

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last season, when new president Jerry Colangelo started shaking things up in Philadelphia, he brought in Mike D’Antoni to be a lead assistant next to Brett Brown. This led to all kinds of speculation around the league that the Colangelos were trying to bring back the old Suns brain trust (especially when Jerry hired his son Bryan to be GM).

However, D’Antoni jumped ship to be the head coach of the Houston Rockets.

Enter, P.J. Carlesimo.

Carlesimo is a good fit, but that’s not going to quell the rumors that the Colangelos are not comfortable with Brown (despite giving him a contract extension). The Sixers need to give Brown a legitimate shot — he’s been like a contestant on Chopped the past few seasons, given a ridiculous basket of ingredients and told to turn Mango, octopus and graham crackers into a four-star meal. He’s gotten them to play defense (at times) and started to build a culture. He has earned the chance to show what he can do with a better lineup.

Which is what the Sixers will have next season.

Nuggets’ Jusuf Nurkic likes idea of two-bigs lineup with Nikola Jokic

DENVER, CO - APRIL 5:  Jusuf Nurkic #23 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on April 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Thunder defeated the Nuggets 124-102. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Late last season, Nuggets coach Mike Malone tried something out of the box the way the NBA is trending — playing two young bigs together. Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, the latter of whom finished in third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Small ball may be in vogue, but going big has worked pretty well these playoffs for Oklahoma City with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (and Serge Ibaka).

It didn’t work all that well for Denver — in just 92 minutes together the Nuggets were outscored by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, mostly because the offense was terrible.

But Nurkic wants to try it again next season, he told the Nuggets’ official Web site.

“I’m happy about the big lineup [with Nikola]. “Basketball has kind of changed. The NBA has gone smaller because of [the] Golden State [Warriors]. In the [Western Conference] semi-finals, look at [Oklahoma City’s Steven] Adams, [Enes] Kanter, and [Serge] Ibaka. They played all those guys and they see the difference. Me and Nikola have great communication because we played in the same league, we played against each other.”

He’s referring to their time in the Serbian league where the two played before going to the NBA.

While it could only be used situationally, expect Malone to experiment with this lineup more. There are some serious defensive questions (neither is exactly fleet of foot), and there could be spacing issues. But if the league moves one way, the smart teams and coaches think about counters.