NBA Playoff Preview: Chicago Bulls vs. Washington Wizards

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source: Getty Images
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

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.

Report: Teams are calling Clippers about DeAndre Jordan trades

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Injuries have ravaged the Clippers. They started the season 4-0 have been without three starters from opening night: Milos Teodosic (plantar fascia injury, he is still in a walking boot), Danilo Gallinari (strained left glute), and now point guard Patrick Beverley is out for the season after microfracture surgery on his knee.

All this has led to the Clippers losing nine in a row before beating the Hawks Friday night. All the weight of the offense has fallen on Blake Griffin‘s shoulders, and while he’s been good most of the game in the fourth quarter his numbers have plummeted, and the Clippers have stumbled.

It’s left the Clippers with a couple of hard questions.

Do they need a coaching change? There was a sense from sources around the league that Rivers is already on his way out — he was stripped of GM/president powers over the summer — and what kept him around was the couple of seasons at $10 million a year on his contract. That’s a lot of money for an owner to eat, even Steve Ballmer, but the time may be coming as a way to shake up the team.

The other, what to do with DeAndre Jordan? They could not work out a contract extension with him (Jordan was acting as his own agent), and one of the league’s top traditional centers is a free agent next summer, but new head basketball guy Lawrence Frank said they want Jordan to be a “Clipper for life.” Does Jordan want to be a Clipper for life? Do the Clippers really want him back, and if so at what price? Does a Clipper franchise trying to get approvals for a new arena in Inglewood want to rebuild now, because it does not help that process? If it’s time to move on and rebuild, do they need to trade him now?

Teams are calling about Jordan, reports Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

DeAndre Jordan, who can become a free agent after the season, has been coming up in trade conversations, with multiple teams talking potential trades. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank said last month that Jordan will be a “Clipper for life,” muddled matters, as does the limited number of teams who need a center and the size of Jordan’s contract ($22.6 million).

Jordan is an All-NBA center, a defensive force in the paint who sets a strong pick, rolls hard to the rim, can finish with the best of them, and is averaging 10.4 points (scoring and attempts are down without Chris Paul feeding him) and 13.4 rebounds a game. Jordan knows who he is and plays within himself.

It’s not hard to imagine how he could help teams such as Cleveland, Washington, Milwaukee, and a host of others. The question is what would teams be willing to give up to get him — they have to send back salary to match, but will not want to give up assets that help them win now. The Clippers will be looking for good young players and picks back in the package, which makes it hard for a team such as Cleveland to put together a package.

But before they discuss trade scenarios, the Clippers need to figure out what they want to do. Life has come at them fast this season and led to a lot of big-picture questions that Frank and Ballmer need to answer.