Orlando Magic v Chicago Bulls

NBA Playoff Preview: Chicago Bulls vs. Washington Wizards

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SEASON RECORDS

Chicago Bulls: 48-34

Washington Wizards: 44-38

KEY INJURIES

Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose (still out for the season)

Washington Wizards: none

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Chicago Bulls:  Offense 99.7 (28th in NBA), Defense 97.8 (2nd in NBA)

Washington Wizards: Offense 103.3 (18th in NBA), Defense 102.4 (10th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) Will Randy Wittman bridge the coaching gap with Tom Thibodeau?

Thibodeau won Coach of the Year his first season with the Bulls, led them to a better record the following year and then guiding them back to the playoffs both years since without their top player. He’s solidly in the mix for Coach of the Year again this season.

Randy Wittman, on the other hand, has the worst career record of all time (minimum: 400 games) and has never made the playoffs before.

Wittman needn’t out-scheme Thibodeau, but the Wizards coach can’t come across as relatively clueless if his team is to win. Making adjustments through a playoff series is a difficult job, and it’s oh so important when teams are relatively evenly matched.

Thibodeau has the advantage in coaching experience and probably acumen, too. Wittman needs to at least hold his own.

2) Will the Wizards avoid long 2s?

Thibodeau’s teams excel at running opponents off the 3-point arc, and this season is no exception. The Bulls force 49.5 percent of their opponents shots from 16+ feet to come inside the arc – most in the league.

The Wizards, especially John Wall and Bradley Beal, will gladly shoot those inefficient long 2s by design. That’s foolish, but what can they do now?

The best way for Washington to combat this trend – assuming an offensive overhaul isn’t feasible – is to get out in transition. The Wizards force plenty of turnovers, and the Bulls don’t excel at taking care of the ball. Get John Wall in the open court, and suddenly, Washington’s offense looks a lot better.

3) How much can Nene play?

Nene is a solidifying force on both ends for the Wizards. Not only is he a productive player, he fits his role around his teammates nearly perfectly.

But he averages just 29.4 minutes per game.

On the other hand, the Bulls’ do-everything player – Joakim Noah – averages 35.3 minutes per game. That’s why he’s an MVP ballot candidate. (Not that playing more would get Nene there, but assuming a large role boosts Noah’s case).

Nene has played more than 35 minutes just 15 times since the Wizards traded for him during the 2011-12 season. He’s frequently injured or at least hobbled, and the Bulls’ physicality will do him no favors.

The more available Nene is, the better Washington’s chances of winning. It’s a big question mark – unlike with Noah, whom the Bulls can depend on for big minutes.

PREDICTION

Does it seem like all the keys are geared toward the Washington? That’s because they are. Chicago is in the driver’s seat, and it’s up to the Wizards to change that. It will take more than idly watching the Bulls’ anemic offense cost them a game or two.

Bulls in 6

Evan Fournier pokes fun at his ‘NBA 2K’ likeness

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 07:  Evan Fournier #10 of the Orlando Magic dribbles the ball against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 7, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The release of NBA 2K17, the latest edition of the popular 2K video-game series, is less than a month away. Players are starting to get their likenesses in the game, as well as their player ratings, and tweet them out. Magic forward Evan Fournier wasn’t too happy with the way his came out.

Fournier’s countryman Rudy Gobert got in on the fun, too, changing his Twitter avatar to Fournier’s screenshot and encouraging others to do the same. He even created a hashtag for it.

At least they’re having fun with it.

Report: Sixers expected to waive Tibor Pleiss after trade with Jazz

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Tibor Pleiss #21 of the Utah Jazz controls the ball in the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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On Friday, the Jazz traded German center Tibor Pleiss to the Sixers along with two second-round picks for Kendall Marshall. The big draw of the trade for Philly was the picks, and Pleiss is not expected to stay with the Sixers, according to Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia’s Jessica Camerato.

Pleiss had a forgettable season with Utah, and the Sixers have a glut of bigs including Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. It would have been virtually impossible for Pleiss to crack the rotation, and it’s unlikely another team picks up his contract, which has $3 million guaranteed this season.

Jordan releases new Russell Westbrook ad, may include a shot at Kevin Durant

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (L) and Russell Westbrook #0 look on during a press conference after the Golden State Warriors defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 108-101 in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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As a Jordan Brand athlete, Russell Westbrook is under the same Nike umbrella as former teammate Kevin Durant. But his latest Jordan spot, released Friday, has a very pointed tagline: “Some run, some make runways.”

Given the circumstances, it’s hard to interpret that as anything other than a reference to Durant signing with the Warriors and Westbrook signing an extension with the Thunder.

Kobe Bryant on how teams should see Warriors: “‘OK, lace ’em up. Let’s go.”

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 03:  Retired NBA Champion, CEO, Kobe Inc., Kobe Bryant speaks onstage during 2016 Milken Institute Global Conference at The Beverly Hilton on May 03, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
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For two decades, Kobe Bryant saw everyone and everything as an obstacle to overcome: The Pacers, Sixers, Nets, Magic, Celtics, Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich, Smush Parker, a torn Achilles. It didn’t matter. Kobe’s work ethic and drive had him rising above it all.

His focus hasn’t changed now. Kobe was on the Jim Rome show, and the topic of the new-look Warriors with Kevin Durant came up, along with the “woe is me” attitude of some players (and plenty of owners and GMs).

“I would have thought less about myself if I looked at that move and said, ‘That’s unfair,'” he said. “If you’re a real competitor, you look at that and say, ‘OK, lace ’em up. Let’s go. I don’t care how many players you have over there; we’re still going to take you down.'”

Easier said than done to make that happen, but that attitude is the only one to have if you think you have a chance. You can be sure LeBron James is thinking that way and telling his Cavaliers teammates the same.

We’re going to miss Kobe.