Preview: Bulls want to bring defense, muck; Heat try to break free

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If we can be sure of one thing it is this: Game 3 Friday night in Chicago is not going to look like Game 2. At least the Bulls hope not.

In that game Miami blew Chicago out by 37. Back home Friday night don’t expect the Bulls will not make the same mistakes — they are not going to lose their cool, they will slow the game down, and they will play the gritty and tough game they are known for.

That doesn’t mean they are going to win. But it won’t be a 37-point game either.

In Game 2 the Heat came out and matched the Bulls intensity, played more aggressive defense and the result was Chicago shot just 35 percent and had 19 turnovers on the night. That allowed Miami to get out and run (Miami led 20-2 in fast break points), get some buckets before the Bulls defense got set, get more points in the paint (58-18 Miami) and start to pull away. And once the Heat pulled away the Bulls just fell apart.

In Game 3, Chicago needs to get back to grinding. They have to slow the pace down, make the Heat take the ball out of the basket, set their defense and not let the Heat shooters get comfortable.

What will be interesting is to see how the referees call the game — after what was seen as a physical Game 2 (is it really more physical than Memphis/Oklahoma City?) the league assigned Joey Crawford to this game. A referee who hands out technicals like candy at Halloween. It’s sign they want to crack down.

Which would be just fine with the Heat. The tighter the game is called, the more free flowing it is, the more they get to use their skills.

The Bulls skill players are still pretty banged up — no Derrick Rose, no Luol Deng, no Kirk Hinrich (not that Hinrich’s a skill guy). The Bulls are going to need points out of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah inside, they are going to need the good Nate Robinson to show up.

Expect Miami to go with a heavy dose of LeBron James. As they should, he’s pretty good. Dwayne Wade hasn’t looked 100 percent but could always have a big game back in Chicago, and eventually Chris Bosh will have a big game. The key for the Heat, as it was in Game 2, is when guys like Norris Cole (or any role players) start to step up and contribute.

Also, expect to see a lot more Shane Battier — the Heat are +47 in two games when he is on the court.

The Bulls know the formula to win, the problem is they are not the better team and it’s going to be hard to execute. But at home, where role players are more likely to step up, they have a puncher’s chance.

PBT Extra: What coaches are on hot seat? Alvin Gentry at front of list.

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This season, for the first time in 46 years, no NBA coach will be fired during the season (nobody is getting canned at this point).

However, once the off-season starts, there will be a few changes.

Alvin Gentry in New Orleans and Fred Hoiberg in Chicago are the names most mentioned, but there will be an unexpected firing somewhere around the league. Some GMs are on the hot seat also (Rob Hennigan in Orlando leads that parade).

I get into all of it in this latest PBT Extra.

Raptors’ Serge Ibaka, Bulls’ Robin Lopez each suspended one game for thrown punches

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It was obvious this was coming. Get in a shoving match “fight” in the NBA and you get a fine. However, actually throw punches and…

Toronto’s Serge Ibaka and Chicago’s Robin Lopez each have been suspended for one game by the NBA “for throwing punches at one another during an altercation,” the league announced. What that works out to is a $120,715 hit for Lopez and a $111,364 ding for Ibaka.

Also, Raptors assistant coach Jamaal Magloire earned a $15,000 fine shoving the Bulls Nikola Mirotic and “acting as other than a peacemaker as part of the same altercation.”

This all came out of what seemed a rather innocuous play. Ibaka and Lopez were battling for rebounding positioning, it went on for a second after the ball went through the hoop, Ibaka caught Lopez with a little chicken wing elbow in the back, Lopez spun, and, boy, that escalated quickly. Lopez’s punch missed, while Ibaka’s caught Lopez in the hair more than the body.

Both men got technicals and were ejected.

Report: Sixers Joel Embiid “very likely” to undergo off-season surgery on knee

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When the Philadelphia 76ers formally announced they were shutting down Joel Embiid for the season, the team’s chief medical director Dr. Jonathan Glashow said:

“The assessment of Monday’s follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid’s left knee appears to reveal that the area affected by the bone bruise has improved significantly, while the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan.”

That meniscus may require off-season surgery, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

As described, this would be a minor surgery that likely has a 4-6 week recovery period. That said, you know the Sixers will bring him along slowly after this. Also, that’s just time Embiid is not on a practice court or in a pick-up game with Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and the rest of the team’s young core. That’s the time the foundations of chemistry on a team are built.

Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game despite a minutes restriction all season. He was incredibly efficient in getting his numbers — he had an All-Star level PER of 24.2 — and when he was on the court the Sixers outscored their opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions. He’s still likely a top three finisher in Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing in just 31 games.

Hopefully getting his knee cleaned up now means Embiid will be able to play in more games next season.

Report: Kevin Durant’s recovery going well, could return before end of season

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Back on Feb. 28, the Warriors’ leading scorer Kevin Durant suffered a grade 2 MCL sprain and a tibial bone bruise, an injury that happened when Zaza Pachulia fell into his knee. They planned to evaluate him at the end of the month, but this injury is often a 6-8 week issue, which would have him back around the start of the playoffs or in the first round.

The Warriors are optimistic it will be earlier than that, probably by the end of the season, reports Marc Stein and Chris Haynes of ESPN.

The Golden State Warriors aren’t scheduled to formally update the status of Kevin Durant’s left knee until next week, but there is cautious optimism within the organization that Durant — should he maintain his current recovery arc — will indeed be able to return to the court before the end of the regular season, according to league sources.

While noting that Durant is roughly at the halfway stage of his recovery journey, sources told ESPN.com that the Warriors are encouraged by the progress Durant has made in the 22 days since he suffered a sprained MCL and tibial bone bruise in his left knee on Feb. 28.

Durant was getting in some on-court work before the Warriors took on the Mavericks Tuesday.

The Warriors lost Durant at the start of their toughest schedule stretch of the season, and they stumbled some through that. However, after getting home (and playing some lesser teams in that stretch) the Warriors have gotten right, Stephen Curry is shooting well again, Matt Barnes and Patrick McCaw are playing well enough, and the Warriors have won five in a row. They are in the driver’s seat to be the No. 1 seed in the West (the biggest challenge to that is a road back-to-back in Houston and San Antonio next week, get a split there and the Warriors become tough to catch).

Between the end of the season and an easy first round — neither Denver nor Portland play enough good defense to slow the Warriors — the Warriors will have time to blend Durant back into the fold. If the Warriors can find their stride again with him, they are the favorites to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.