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.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.

Pacers president Kevin Pritchard likes tweets critical of Paul George trade

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Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was widely panned – including by me – for trading Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Oops.

Oladipo and Sabonis are killing it while George has underwhelmed.

Upon George’s return to Indiana, Pritchard took the opportunity to gloat. The Pacers general manager recently liked these tweets (hat tip: Matt Ellentuck of SB Nation):

This is petty – and I love it. Pritchard earned the victory lap.

Report: Rival executives still expect Paul George to leave Thunder for Lakers

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Paul George has been pretty open about his plans.

He told plenty of people – including the Pacers – he planned to leave for the Lakers in the summer of 2018. Even after the Thunder traded for him, George spoke of the lure of playing for his hometown team.

Of course, George also left the door open to re-signing with Oklahoma City. He proclaimed he’d be dumb to leave if the Thunder reached the conference finals or upset the Warriors.

So far, Oklahoma City (12-14) doesn’t even look like a playoff lock, let alone a team capable of knocking off Golden State or reaching the conference finals. So, cue the inevitable speculation.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Rival execs still expect Paul to head for the Lakers in free agency

Do these executives have inside information into George’s thinking, or are they just speculating based on already-available information? Some executives are incentivized to drum up the Lakers threat, because they want to trade for George themselves now. If these executives insist George will leave for Los Angeles regardless, they might pry him from Oklahoma City for less.

There’s also a theory George is hyping his desire to sign with the Lakers so a team would have to trade less for him. That got him to the Thunder for what looked like a meager return (but hasn’t been). It might get him to a more favorable situation before the trade deadline without hampering his next team long-term. Of course, this theory isn’t mutually exclusive with George actually signing in Los Angeles. It could just get him better options to choose from this summer.

Surely, the Thunder are trying to parse all this noise. If their season doesn’t turn around, they should explore flipping George rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer. But they should also be wary that he’ll bolt for Los Angeles at first opportunity just because rival executives predict it.