PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat

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SEASON RECORDS

Chicago: 45-37, five seed in the East

Miami: 66-16, one seed in the East, best record in the NBA

PLAYOFF RECORDS

Chicago: Beat the Brooklyn Nets 4-3

Miami: Swept the Milwaukee Bucks 4-0

SEASON SERIES

The teams split the four meetings with two wins apiece. The Bulls snapped the Heat’s 27-game winning streak on March 27.

KEY INJURIES

The Bulls are likely to be without Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng at least to start the series, just as they were for their Game 7 win in Brooklyn over the Nets. There is no change to the status of Derrick Rose, who is expected to continue to be out for the rest of the playoffs.

Dwyane Wade missed Game 4 against the Bucks with a sore knee, but will have had eight days to rest by the time Game 1 against the Bulls tips off on Monday. He’s expected back.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession) – PLAYOFFS ONLY

Chicago: Offense 102.3 (9th in the postseason), Defense 104.9 (Tied-10th in the postseason)

Miami: Offense 108.6 (4th in the postseason), Defense 91.5 (3rd in the postseason)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES:

Rest or rust for Miami? The Heat have been so dominant in winning 41 of their last 43 games that sadly, it’s come to worrying about whether or not an eight-day layoff between the first and second round of the playoffs should be cause for concern. It isn’t. If Miami shows any signs at all of being out of sync, it won’t last beyond the first quarter of Game 1. The Bulls would be wise to maximize that opportunity to the fullest should it actually present itself.

For the Bulls, it’s all about defense: In order for the Bulls to have a shot in this series, they’ll need to contain LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, while still managing to get out and contest Miami’s three-point shooters. (Oh, is that all?) It starts with scoring enough so that Miami is taking the ball out of the net instead of off the glass, where the Heat can be as dangerous as any team in the league if they’re able to get out in transition. Even containing Miami’s scoring on the secondary break can be a problem for defenses to stop, so finding that balance between crashing for offensive rebounds and getting back to limit fast break opportunities will be critical for the Bulls, who will have the best chance to slow the Heat while defending them in traditional halfcourt sets.

Miami was second in the league during the regular season in three-point shooting percentage (trailing only the Golden State Warriors), and was sixth in the league in attempting more than 22 shots per game from beyond the arc. A lot of that comes from drive-and-kick actions from James and Wade, so playing team defense on the slashers with the interior players while staying at home on the shooters (or at least making sure to close out on them with purpose) is going to be another area of concentration defensively for the Bulls.

For the Heat, it’s all about intensity: The Bulls play extremely hard, all night,  every night, no matter who is or is not in their lineup. The intensity with which Chicago approaches every single possession is the reason that despite the multitude of injuries the team has dealt with this season, it was still able to win a Game 7 on the road to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

The injuries to Deng and Hinrich that will likely keep them out for the first game or two of this series will hurt the Bulls overall, but it won’t hurt what they do offensively. Much like the Spurs, the Bulls are a system team that doesn’t rely too heavily on one or two players to carry the bulk of the scoring load on a nightly basis. If Nate Robinson, for example, isn’t forcing the issue and is converting at a relatively acceptable percentage, then Tom Thibodeau will ride him as long as possible. If not, he has no problem going elsewhere to get the desired results.

Miami is far and away the better team in this series. The only thing that can even the playing field for Chicago is if the Heat decide to cruise for extended stretches, and let the Bulls gain confidence while they’re still expending maximum energy.

OUTLOOK

The injuries to Deng and Hinrich are a much bigger deal in this series than they turned out to be for the Bulls against the Nets. Hinrich is excellent defensively, and Deng can legitimately impact the game on both ends of the floor. Without those two, there is much less room for error for the Bulls, especially opening on the road against the defending champs.

Expect Miami to impose its will early in this series to crush any hope the Bulls might have of stealing a game or two to try to make it interesting. Chicago will continue to play hard, but the team isn’t likely to have enough to beat the Heat more than once, and even that seems like a bit of a stretch.

PREDICTION

Heat to sweep in four games.

Danny Ainge: Josh Jackson canceled Celtics workout while Brad Stevens and I flew there

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The Celtics were the first playoff team to win the lottery, which brought a complication: Some draft prospects and their agents wanted to avoid Boston, which has a deep roster and fewer avenues to immediate playing time.

Lonzo Ball wouldn’t work out for the Celtics, and neither would Josh Jackson. Ball was straightforward all along on his intent to work out for only the Lakers, who ultimately drafted him No. 2.

With Jackson – who was drafted No. 4 by the Suns after Boston took Jayson Tatum No. 3 – it was more convoluted.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, via CSN New England:

Never talked with Josh. No one in our organization did. I know someone wrote that that was difference, but that’s not the case.

They cancelled a workout on us when we flew out to Sacramento, and they just decided to cancel it as we flew – just Brad and I and Mike Zarren flew cross-country.

So there was something that he didn’t want to play for the Celtics. In spite of that, we’ve watched Josh for two years, and we’re fans. He’s a terrific kid and a good player. So we tried not to overreact to those kinds of things and make a big deal of it.

Agents and players have all sorts of motivations to get to certain places, as we’ve seen in the past. You remember last year, Kris Dunn didn’t want to come here. We didn’t hold it against him. We felt like we were just taking the player that we wanted.

And I think the same thing this time. I don’t think we were trying to penalize Josh too much, but we didn’t get to see him or talk to him face-to-face.

I was mad. We flew cross-country. Are you kidding me? I had to get up at 4 o’clock and fly back home.

There’s nothing to do in Sacramento.

At first glance, this sounds sloppily rude by Jackson and/or his agent, B.J. Armstrong. And maybe it was.

But perhaps there’s more to it? The best professional athletes enter the workforce in conditions unlike anyone else in this country, forced to join whichever single company in their chosen field picks them – the worst companies receiving priority in selection. Players should feel no obligation to help companies in this cartel gather information. Rather, players’ priority should be getting to the company they find most desirable.

Jackson canceling a workout as the Celtics flew to California almost certainly turned them off more than never scheduling the workout in the first place would have. This might have been smart in the long run by Jackson if he didn’t want to go to Boston.

It stinks Ainge, Zarren and Brad Stevens had to deal with it. But it also stinks Jackson has no realistic choice but to participate in a system so unfair to labor.

Still, Ainge responded correctly – trying not to hold the sudden schedule change against Jackson. The Celtics will be better off with the better prospect, whether that’s Jackson or Tatum. If they drafted Jackson, he’d likely get over it. Evaluating Jackson only on what he’d bring to the team is easier said than done, and I’m not sure how well Ainge actually did that. But at least trying to keep that mindset was the right approach.

Jimmy Butler’s trainer calls Bulls GM Gar Forman a liar, less moral than drug dealers

Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune via AP
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The Bulls traded Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves last night, reuniting the star wing with Tom Thibodeau.

Butler apparently took it well. Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

Butler’s agent showed perspective. Bernard Lee:

Butler’s trainer, on the other hand, took a completely different tone. Travelle Gaines‏:

I don’t like the implication that drug dealers are immoral.

Otherwise, is Gaines right about Bulls general manager Gar Forman? I don’t know what Forman told Butler.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

I do know Forman probably shouldn’t have allowed himself to be drug into public a back-and-forth with Gaines, especially coming across as scolding the trainer. There’s little to be gained there – much like the trade itself.

Watch NBA deputy commissioner crack up as fan announces pick before he does

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If you’re on Twitter during the NBA Draft, there is no suspense. Every pick has been announced minutes before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, or later Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum, head to the podium to make the announcement.

On Thursday night, deep in the second round as the crowd at the Barclay’s Centre had mostly left and only a few, not completely sober, diehards remained, Tatum walked up to the podium to give the 52nd pick — and thought it was funny when a fan beat him to it.

I love that he thought it was funny. You think David Stern would have laughed?

Five guys not taken in NBA Draft worth watching

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As a rule of thumb, about 15 percent of the NBA at any point is made of up guys who went undrafted and fought their way into the league. They tend not to be stars, but quality role players who have found a role — and are getting paid. Jeremy Lin, Kent Bazemore, Seth Curry, Tyler Johnson, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavendova, Langston Galloway and Robert Covington, are just part of the list of undrafted guys currently in the league.

Here are five guys that went undrafted Thursday night worth watching.

1. P.J. Dozier 6’6” shooting guard (South Carolina). He has already signed with the Lakers and will be on their Summer League team. He passes the eye test of “has all the physical tools you want in a quality NBA two guard” but has yet to show much polish or string together consistent play. He shows it in flashes, but he needs to be more consistent, particularly finishing with floaters or from the midrange. If he can become more consistent with his shot and handles, he has potential as a combo one/two guard who can both work off the ball and be a secondary shot creator (he has good court vision).

2. Johnathan Motley, 6’9” power forward/center (Baylor). He plays like a center, and he’s undersized but a 7’4” wingspan covers for a lot. He is an amazing rebounder who can score in post. He’s a good athlete who could fit as a small-ball five off the bench to start. He’s an average rim protector, and he is not going to stretch the floor (although he has shown some improvement in that area). He’s a bit raw, he’s inconsistent, and he’s coming off an injury. All that said, some team will give him a shot, this is one of the bigger surprises of guys not taken.

3. Isaiah Hicks, 6’8” power forward (North Carolina). He’s signed with the Clippers and will be on their Summer League team. He’s got an NBA body, which is part of the draw here, but in college he was a power player who could use his strength to his advantage and overwhelm opponents. In the NBA he will find it much harder to do going against men. He does have a soft touch and can run the floor to get points. He’s got to work on his left hand, and developing a more diversified offensive game.

4. George De Paula, 6’6” point guard (Brazil).
At 21 he was the starting point guard for the team that made the Brazilian League finals. He has all the physical tools teams could hope for, including a 7’0” wingspan. He’s made big strides the past couple of years in the things teams want from a point guard such as decision-making and being a floor general, but he is still very raw. This is a project and may continue to develop in Brazil or Europe, but show up in the NBA at some point.

5. Devin Robinson, 6’8″ forward (Florida).
 Already signed with the Washington Wizards to be on their Summer League team. He’s got the versatility of an NBA forward who can cover multiple positions, plus he shot 39.1 percent from three last year. It’s all a bit raw, especially on defense, but he has the tools to fit into the NBA game. His shooting needs to be a little more consistent, he’s got to get stronger and fight through stuff, and there are just concerns about his decision-making and feel for the game. Still, smart gamble by the Wizards.