Preview: Bulls defense solving Heat bigger issues than referees

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The Chicago Bulls have much, much bigger issues right now than the referees.

You couldn’t tell that from the talk around Chicago or even at times from coach Tom Thibodeau. It’s about the foul calls, it’s about LeBron James the flopper. For the coach and his $35,000 rant, that was simply him trying to influence the officials going forward — the Bulls know they need to be physical and aggressive to win Game 4 to even this series. They want the latitude to do that.

We like the intensity because these teams really don’t like each other. This feels like a playoff rivalry, like we want the playoffs to feel. For some fans that can go a little far. Conspiracies are great ways to explain away what we don’t want to accept — that one man with rifle in a book depository window can kill a president, that weather balloons landed at Area 51…

And that the Bulls defense hasn’t been good enough this series to slow LeBron and friends.

That is the key in this series — Miami shot 60 percent in Game 2 and 50 percent in Game 3. On the season the Bulls allowed opponents to shoot 44.3 percent, ninth best in the NBA. Or, look at it this way: During the season the Bulls allowed opponents just 100.3 points per 100 possessions (fifth in the NBA), the last two games the Heat have scored 125.3 and 120 points per 100. Miami adjusted to the physicality after Game 1.

Part of that comes back around to why Thibodeau is lobbying referees — the Heat have had a parade to the foul line the last two games. The Bulls want to be physical but without the fouls. (Although part of this is the Bulls new trend of taking the “Euro foul” — fouling a guy at midcourt to stop a fast break opportunity. Chicago has gone to that and it ups their foul count.)

Bottom line heading into Game 4 is the Bulls defense isn’t getting it done — they forced the Heat into more jumpers in Game 3 but Miami hit them. Chicago doesn’t have the offensive weapons left to compensate for that.

Miami comes into Game 4 with the goal of getting points closer to the basket again — starting their sets earlier in the clock and attacking the paint off the dribble. Look for the Heat to try and post up Dwyane Wade, who has struggled a little this series. The Bulls defense has thrown the Heat’s spacing off at times, just not enough.

Chicago needs to get Nate Robinson more space (27 points in Game 1, 28 points the next two games). They need a huge night out of Joakim Noah. And Jimmy Butler. They will not have Luol Deng or Kirk Hinrich. Or Derrick Rose.

And they need to get back to the physical defense that can win them games in this series. Not the over-the-top pushes of Noah on Chris Andersen or Nazr Mohammed on LeBron. They have to stay within the play and make it happen.

Report: ‘Tremendous concern’ for Jeremy Lin’s knee injury

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The Nets’ projected record this season came under greater scrutiny when the Celtics traded Brooklyn’s unprotected first-round pick to the Cavaliers in the Kyrie Irving trade. After finishing third-to-last and last the previous two years, were the Nets poised to take a step forward, or would they convey a very high pick to the Cavs?

Jeremy Lin, who missed 46 games last season, getting healthy was a reason for optimism in Brooklyn and pessimism in Cleveland. But it appears the veteran guard could be out a while.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Billy Reinhardt of Nets Daily:

If the injury is as bad as feared, what a bummer for Lin. He came to Brooklyn expecting to play a leading role on a developing team, and he just can’t stay healthy.

The Nets were probably more focused on developing their younger players, but – especially without their own draft picks – there was no harm in shooting for the playoffs. This appears to a blow to that (already unlikely) dream.

It’s a boon to the Cavaliers, though. And whenever something significantly affects LeBron James‘ team, it has ramifications into the entire power dynamic of the Eastern Conference. For an injury to a player on a team most expect to be bad, the medical developments here will be tracked closely around the league.

Aaron Gordon throws himself alley-oop off backboard (video)

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Remember when Aaron Gordon was a promising fun player?

The Magic sidetracked him by playing him at small forward most of last season. But back at power forward, Gordon showed how he could push the pace as a four in Orlando’s season-opening win over the Heat.

There’s obviously flair in passing to yourself off the backboard, but it’s a sound way to improve position. Gordon did that to fantastic effect.

PBT Extra: Three things to watch with Boston in wake of Hayward injury

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Gordon Hayward is going to have surgery on his ankle and leg, which should not be a surprise to anyone who saw the gruesome injury to his leg just 5:15 into his Celtics career. There is no timetable for his return yet, maybe he makes it back for the playoffs, but the Celtics are not going to rush him and he may well miss the entire season.

What next for Boston?

In this PBT Extra I cover the three things to watch for from Boston, which in the short term could mean the Kyrie Irving show. Longer term, not much changes.

Gordon Hayward addresses Celtics and fans from hospital bed (video)

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Gordon Hayward broke his leg early in his Celtics debut – a devastating injury. He’s preparing for surgery tonight, per Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

First – after a perfect introduction from Marcus Smart – Hayward addressed the Boston crowd from his hospital bed before tonight’s game against the Bucks.

Hayward:

What’s up everybody? Just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has sent me your thoughts and prayers. I’m going to be alright. It’s hurting me that I can’t be there for the home opener. I want nothing more just to be with my teammates and walk out onto that floor tonight. But I’ll be supporting you guys from here and wishing you the best of luck. Kill it tonight. Thanks, guys.

At least this nice moment (and an outpouring of support) came out of such a gruesome injury.

And if Smart keeps setting up his teammates so well, maybe the Celtics’ offense will keep humming.