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.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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Did Russell Westbrook get mad at Steven Adams for not taking potential triple-double-clinching shot? (video)

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Russell Westbrook chases triple-doubles.

That hardly makes him unique. He’s just close enough to the feat more often than other players, so he chases them more often.

But he still chases them.

Late in the Thunder’s 108-91 win over the Warriors last night, Westbrook was heading toward his final line of 34 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. His teammates shot off his passes on three of Oklahoma City’s final four possessions before he took a seat (including one assist). The exception came when he passed to Steven Adams, who passed rather than shoot – clearly upsetting Westbrook.

Was Westbrook mad because he missed his chance at a triple-double? Maybe.

Was Westbrook mad because Adams passed as the shot clock neared expiration? Maybe.

It could be both!

Watch Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on Golden State’s bench. They clearly found something funny.