Joakim Noah, Nate Robinson

Bulls win? Warriors in second round? Unpredictability has been hallmark of these playoffs

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Legendary baseball statistician Bill James once said the big problem with the NBA is that the best team usually wins in the playoffs.

He’s right, the NBA playoffs tend to follow form. And he’s right that we like unpredictability in the playoffs. Baseball has a long grind of a season, but in a seven game playoff series things get random and a hot bat or arm can win it. The NFL playoffs are one-and-done where upsets are common. Last year the eight-seed Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup. We love the randomness of 15 seeds winning a game in the NCAA Tournament, where the person whose system of picking teams is “my grandmother was from Wichita” can win the office pool.

But the NBA playoffs are more predictable. Before the season even starts we have a pretty good idea who the handful of title contenders are.

Bill James would have loved Monday night.

First the small-of-stature, giant-of-heart Nate Robinson led the Bulls to a road win over the heavily favorite, defending champion Heat.

Then an upstart six-seed Warriors team put a scare in — and frankly should have beat — San Antonio, the new favorites in the West (since the injury to Russell Westbrook changed the landscape).

These 2013 NBA playoffs have been unpredictable so far. Which has made these playoffs interesting.

Nobody gave the banged-up Bulls much of a chance against the Heat — our official preview at PBT predicted a sweep. Even Bulls writers such as CSNChicago.com’s Aggrey Sam were predicting the Heat in five.

But we also all knew those games would be close and hard-fought — the Bulls defend and can score inside, two things you have to do to have any success against the Heat. That strategy worked early — the Bulls led by 8 after an 11-3 run to end the first quarter. The game stayed close the entire way, no team leading by double digits.

But through it all we kept waiting for that patented Heat run where they just pull away and there is nothing the other team can do.

It never came. Rather it was the Bulls who closed the game on a 10-0 run behind Robinson to get the win.

The Warriors on the other hand did have a big lead, thanks to Stephen Curry having a seemingly unstoppable night. He finished it all with 44 points and 11 rebounds, hitting 6-of-14 from three and just being devastating.

The Warriors led by 16 in the fourth and it looked like Monday was the night of upsets, but then the Spurs had a late 15-0 run and after some traded buckets we were going to overtime. Then double overtime. And the Warriors led that with 4 seconds to go, but the Spurs did what the Spurs do and Manu Ginobili got wide open for a three and drained it to give the Sours the win.

Still, it was the best game of these playoffs. An amazing night that is just the latest in an amazing playoffs where the lower seed won in 3-of-8 first round series.

Sure, the odds of a Heat vs. Spurs finals is still far better than a Bulls vs. Warriors one. Everything may still follow form. But James goes on to say in his piece that because the NBA playoffs follow form so often the underdog will not try as hard — why dive for a loose ball or make the extra effort if you can’t win? There he misses the point — human nature is to struggle against long odds, at least for some. People do not give up. NBA teams and players do not give up.

We saw that Monday, a  sign of the uncertainty the NBA playoffs have found this year. And it’s fun to watch.

Way too early look: Who could make up USA’s 2020 Tokyo Olympic basketball team?

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan and Kyle Lowry #7 of United States stand on the podium after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Let’s start with the obvious: This is an exercise in futility. There is no way to predict accurately what the 2020 USA men’s basketball team headed to the Tokyo Olympics will look like. There will be injuries that sideline guys. There will be contract situations where key guys decide it’s in their best interest to sit out. Plus, there could be a guy just now entering his junior year of high school who we don’t know well yet but in four years will be a clear choice for the team.

Now that we’ve gotten through the tedious disclaimer, let’s have fun:

What will the 2020 USA Basketball team look like?

First, it will have a bit of a business attitude — Gregg Popovich is coaching now. Not that Mike Krzyzewski ran a college party Team USA, far from it, but with Popovich’s demeanor and the scare put into the 2016 team (and some improving world powers, such as Canada), expect the USA to be a little more focused next time around.

For the roster, who from the 2016 gold medal team in Rio returns for more gold? At the top of the list: A 31-year-old Kevin Durant will be back for one more run (and to climb on top of the USA Olympic scoring list). He will be the unquestioned team leader. The alpha. It will be his team.

After that? Young stars who want one more go at it such as Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, and Klay Thompson will seriously consider a return. Maybe Jimmy Butler. Those guys will have a leg up having Olympic experience and a commitment to the program.

After that, some big names that passed on Rio are going to suit up in Japan. There will be far less defection of top talent this time around — the fears around Brazil will be gone, and NBA players wanting to sell more shoes in Asia will be eager to sign up. I expect you will see Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, and maybe James Harden decide they are in for the next round. LeBron James said he felt left out and may consider a return, but he will be 35 years old with 17 NBA seasons on his body by that point, does he want to put his body through an international curtain call? Probably not.

Rounding out the roster, expect a few guys from this year’s USA Select Team — the team the Olympic squad practiced against in Las Vegas at the start of camp — to make the leap up (as Kyrie Irving and others did this year).

Who? That’s the hardest thing to predict, it depends on development. Guys to watch include Victor Olidipo, Justise Winslow, Devin Booker, Brandon Ingram, and Jabari Parker — some of them will be ready to make the leap.

One clue to the 2020 roster: Players that you see in China for the 2019 FIBA World Cup will be more likely to make the 2020 team. (Yes, the World Championships are now the year before the Olympics, welcome to more of FIBA’s wisdom, as is the fact the Cup qualifiers fall during the NBA/Euroleague seasons.) Guys from the select team now that head to China in three years and perform well in that setting will likely have the USA across their chest in Japan.

Whatever team we send will have the most talent in those games. The question is will that be enough?

Check out the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays from last season

AUBURN HILLS, MI - APRIL 24: Kyrie Irving #2 and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers prepare for tip off against the Detroit Pistons in game four of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Palace of Auburn Hills on April 24, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With athletes such as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on the team, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays of last season were going to have some special moments.

Yes, the block by LeBron and the stepback three by Irving that sealed the first Cleveland title in 52 years are on top of the list.

But there are some other ridiculous Irving handles and even a Timofey Mozgov dunk in there (a $64 million dunk, apparently).

Watch Spurs’ Dejounte Murray throw off-the-backboard alley-oop to himself in pickup game

Washington guard Dejounte Murray, center, dribbles the ball past Mount St. Mary's center Taylor Danaher (50) as Washington forward Marquese Chriss, right, watches duirng the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Just a suggestion for rookie Dejounte Murray: Don’t do this in front of Gregg Popovich. You may not like his reaction.

That said, the Spurs needed to get more athletic this off-season — landing Pau Gasol certainly didn’t help that cause — so enter first-round pick Murray, who pulled this off in a recent pickup game.

Murray is going to be brought along slowly in a backcourt where Tony Parker and Patty Mills will be splitting time at the point. Murray is more of a combo guard and is going to have to shoot a lot better than he did in college (28.8 percent from three) to get some run. But this is a situation where the Spurs can groom him, bring him along slowly, and see if they have another draft steal.

He’s certainly got the athleticism.

Corey Brewer: “James (Harden) is going to play defense this year”

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 18:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets walks across the court during their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Toyota Center on March 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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James Harden‘s defense is not as bad as its reputation.

Well, at least it wasn’t two seasons ago — his near MVP season he was in good enough shape that he could put in a respectable effort on that end and still handle his massive offensive load. There were still some mental lapses, but his focus was better and his improvement lifted the team defense. Last season, he regressed back to youtube “highlight” defense Harden — his conditioning was not where it needed to be, he didn’t expend as much effort on that end, and it showed.

Harden got a massive contract extension this summer, and Dwight Howard is Atlanta’s problem — now Harden has to lead the Rockets. By example. Corey Brewer told ESPN you’re going to see that on defense.

“I think this year he’s going to play better defense, We’re going to let the past be in the past. It’s the future of the Rockets, man. James is going to play defense this year.”

We’re all Missourians on this one: Show me.

Remember that the Rockets will be out and running — Mike D’Antoni is the coach now, and Daryl Morey is going to get the up tempo ball he wants (which Kevin McHale had them doing, but Harden didn’t like him so…). D’Antoni’s teams in Phoenix played better defense than their reputation — points per possession they were middle of the pack — but that has never been his focus.

Will Harden be able to run like he needs to on offense and still defend at a reasonable level?

If he can, it’s a big step toward the Rockets being a dangerous team in the West because if he does it others will follow. Otherwise, every Rockets game will be a shootout, which is entertaining but not going to get a team deep into the playoffs.