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: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.