ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Chicago Bulls

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Last season: The Bulls went 45-37, putting together an impressive regular season that included the victory that snapped the Heat’s 27-win streak. Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler each got Defensive Player of the Year votes as Tom Thibodeau continuously reinforces a culture in Chicago.

In the playoffs, the hard-nosed Bulls beat the more-talented Nets in a seven-game first-round series. As Chicago injuries took a toll, Nate Robinson emerged as quite the spark. Chicago ended the talk of Miami going undefeated throughout the playoffs, but otherwise, the Bulls ran out of gas in a 4-1 loss in the second round.

Anything else from the Bulls’ season worth mentioning? Any other key storylines? It seems like I’m missing something or someone, but I just checked all the Bulls’ 2012-13 box scores and every name is accounted for in the preview. I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Signature highlight from last season:

No. 2: Evidence that the Bulls had a mental edge over the Nets in their playoff matchup:

Key player changes: The Bulls signed Mike Dunleavy and drafted Tony Snell and Erik Murphy. Those players likely won’t make major impacts, but they could turn into glue guys, especially considering how much the Bulls need shooting.

Nate Robison left as a free agent, and though he could be a headache, he really brought an element the Bulls didn’t have. They might be better without him, but they’ll definitely be less fun. Marco Belininelli also left, and Richard Hamilton was waived.

Keys to the Bulls’ season:

1) How good is Derrick Rose? Rose took his time returning, but ACL tears are no joke. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has completely ruined expectations for how long it should take a professional athlete to return to full health. Despite incredible medical advancements, it’s still possible Rose has lost some explosiveness.

Rose is almost certainly good. The question is just how good.

2) Will Gar Forman keep the team together? Luol Deng has an expiring contract and could be major trade bait. Carlos Boozer, now so overrated he’s underrated, is overpaid for the next two seasons, so Chicago might want to dump him. Those moves could arguably make the Bulls better in the long-term. But both players are key this season.

3) Can Tom Thibodeau hold back just a little? Need to win one game, and there might not be a better coach than Tom Thibodeau. But need to have the most successful season, and Thibodeau slips in the rankings. He’s relentless, which makes his teams fun to watch (see below), but it also wears on his his players. The Bulls are capable of making a deep playoff run, but not if all their players are fatigued and injured.

There’s no guarantee Thibodeau can instill toughness while still limiting minutes and allowing slightly reduced intensity on certain nights. But if he can, the Bulls would be better for it.

Why you should watch the Bulls: They play hard every game, and that often leads to a couple fun plays. Plus, if you enjoy defense, the Bulls play it as well as any team in the league. Joakim Noah is relentless on that end, a real throwback.

Offensively, the Bulls could be rough last season, but Derrick Rose should solve that. He’s the type of singular talent who really transforms the entire scheme. Chicago’s offense might not become elite overnight, but it will at least be passable while the defense excels.

Prediction: 55-27. If healthy, the Bulls should win a playoff series or two. With the right breaks, that could be three or maybe even four. Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah form a complete, talented and balanced lineup. But the Bulls’ bench has fallen off in recent years, which could prove costly (though I really like Taj Gibson). Unless Tom Thibodeau changes his hard-charging ways, it’s unlikely Chicago’s starting lineup holds all season.

Of course, none of this matters unless Derrick Rose looks like the player who won MVP. With that Rose, the Bulls’ ceiling is a championship. With a lesser version, every playoff series will be a scrap, and it’s tough to win many while going through that each round.

Report: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not expected back to coach in first round vs. Blazers

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Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr missed games last year due to a back injury that gave him chronic pain. Kerr also missed Saturday’s Game 3 win over the Portland Trail Blazers due to an unspecified illness, and reports out of Oakland are that Kerr will not return to coach the rest of the first round series.

What Kerr is battling is still unknown, apparently even to the Warriors. According to a report from the Mercury News, Kerr is having trouble walking and has been in excruciating pain.

Via MercuryNews.com:

Vague descriptions like “illness” and “not feeling well,” are usually a sign something is wrong. In this case, according to sources, it is.

At the worst of this current illness, Kerr was in excruciating pain, according to the sources, and he could barely walk. It was scary because it wasn’t a feeling he’s had before.

The worst part, the Warriors don’t yet know what is going. They had to say “illness” because there are no answers yet.

Kerr hasn’t felt well all series, according to people around him, and recently it become unbearable. It is unknown if these issues are even related to his past well-known health problems.

No matter your loyalty, I think we’re all hoping for Kerr to get an answer and feel better soon. If you’ve ever dealt with chronic pain it can be something that not only debilitates your body but grates at your emotional state, too.

Meanwhile, Kerr’s absence is a huge question for the Warriors moving forward. Last season it was Luke Walton who helmed the squad so well it earned him the head coaching position for the Los Angeles Lakers. But this injury comes late in the game for Golden State, and while they may be able to cut through the first rounds of the playoffs without Kerr, there’s no doubt they would rather have him on the bench for later rounds.

In Kerr’s absence, assistant coach Mike Brown took the helm for the Warriors against Portland in Game 3. The Blazers blew a huge lead they held most of the game as Golden State took a 3-0 series lead, 119-113.

NBA fines Chicago’s Rajon Rondo $25,000 for attempting to trip Jae Crowder (VIDEO)

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Rajon Rondo‘s end-of-season performance may have helped him earn a little extra coin this offseason. He’s certainly going to need it given that the NBA has fined the Chicago Bulls PG $25,000 after he attempted to trip Boston Celtics wing Jae Crowder.

The league released the decision in a statement on Sunday morning.

The incident occured with 31 seconds left in the first quarter of Game 3, a game the Celtics won, 104-87. Rondo was on the bench, and as possession changed Crowder took a wide sweeping angle along the sideline, right in front of Rondo.

Rondo casually stuck his leg out as Crowder passed by, but didn’t seem to make any contact.

Chicago leads the series, 2-1.

Thunder’s Taj Gibson providing scoring help for Westbrook

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Taj Gibson often describes his role for the Thunder as doing whatever the team needs.

For now, scoring is playing a bigger part than usual. The versatile 6-foot-9 power forward has found his way since being traded from Chicago and has emerged one of Oklahoma City’s few consistent offensive weapons alongside Russell Westbrook in the playoffs. He may need to keep it up to give the Thunder a chance of winning the first-round series with Houston – Oklahoma City trails 2-1 heading into Game 4 Sunday at home.

Gibson built a sterling reputation in Chicago, but the Brooklyn, New York native is more concerned with the respect he’s earned since his arrival.

“They see I’m in here late nights, early mornings, just constantly working with my teammates, constantly putting work in,” he said. “The confidence is going to be there because they understand you do the work, but I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help my team.”

Gibson has done a little bit of everything since coming to the Thunder. He has provided experience and versatility to an already stacked frontline that includes emerging young players Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. He also has added toughness, and at times, scoring punch. His athleticism and ability to guard on the perimeter against outside-shooting big men and on switches fills some of the void created when the Thunder traded Serge Ibaka on draft night this past offseason.

“Great vet,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “Great man, first and foremost. Very positive and does what it takes to win. It was a great pickup for us.”

Domantas Sabonis was the starting power forward when Gibson arrived in Oklahoma City, but once he got settled and began to understand coach Billy Donovan’s system, the Thunder improved. Gibson replaced Sabonis for the first time March 9 against San Antonio, and the Thunder went 11-5 with him in the starting lineup. He averaged 9.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21 regular-season games for the Thunder.

He is averaging 11 points on 65 percent shooting in the playoffs. He was effective on offense in Game 2, establishing himself early and helping put the Thunder in position to win. Oklahoma City went away from him late, and Houston rallied for the victory.

In Game 3, the Thunder went back to him consistently. a href(equals)’https://apnews.com/dab4b99c496a4450906c11a9c72132d1/Westbrook’s-triple-double-leads-Thunder-past-Rockets-115-113?utm-campaign=SocialFlow&utm-source=Twitter&utm-medium=AP-Sports’He finished with 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting in Oklahoma City’s 115-113 win/a on Friday night.

“Taj is a great post player,” Westbrook said. “He does a great job of getting in great position down low. When we see a matchup that we like we are going to keep going to him. Whether it is a miss or a make, it gives us the opportunity to score the basketball in the paint.”

Gibson did damage inside and out and punished the Rockets with his mid-range jumper.

“It’s no shock to me, just because that mid-range is automatic for him,” Thunder forward Doug McDermott, who also joined the Thunder in the trade with Chicago, said. “He’s tough to guard on that block too.”

Gibson also had a fast start in Game 2, but once the Thunder began to struggle, they went away from him. Gibson knew he didn’t need to change much going into Game 3.

“Just continue to be aggressive,” he said. “I felt like I had good shots in Game 2. Just got to stay with it and play the game as it flows to me.”

On defense, Gibson has been a better option than Kanter and Adams, who have struggled to keep up with the more athletic Rockets. Gibson performed well in all facets in Game 3, and Donovan needs more of that in Game 4.

“I was happy for him last night,” Donovan said Saturday. “I thought he gave us a great lift in both the first and second half. He’s professional, he’s a man, and he’s a reliable guy.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

Watch Kawhi Leonard, Mike Conley in epic playoff duel Saturday (VIDEO)

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Kawhi Leonard scored 16 straight points for the Spurs at the end of regulation to give San Antonio the lead and a chance. Then Mike Conley hit a floater in the lane forced overtime.

There Mike Conley hit a floating bank shot that had the Grizzlies up three with :47 seconds left, only to have Leonard answer with a three to tie the game. Marc Gasol would break that tie and get Memphis the series-evening win.

Conley and Leonard traded blows through the clutch parts of Saturday’s epic Game 4 between Memphis and San Antonio. It’s worth checking out the highlights again.