Orlando Magic v Chicago Bulls

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

Stephen Curry gets fouled, hits crazy rainbow circus shot vs. Jazz (VIDEO)

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Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry is a wizard when it comes to shots you don’t think can ever reach the iron. Each time he does something like this, he surprises you even though you should be used to it by now.

But I’m not. The Utah Jazz aren’t. Heck, maybe even Steph isn’t used to it by now.

As Curry was driving down the left side of the floor on Thursday, Shelvin Mack got out of position and wound up trailing the Warriors star. With Curry rounding the pick, Mack reached and earned a foul.

Thinking quickly, Curry then hoisted up a rainbow of a shot that gently kissed the net on the way down.

Curry would go on to make the free throw for the 3-point play.

Watch Karl-Anthony Towns blow by two defenders, posterize Jonas Valanciunas

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We’re 21 games into Minnesota Timberwolves C Karl-Anthony Towns‘ sophomore season and it already seems cliche to say that he has guard skills

But, like, he does have guard skills.

There was more evidence of that on Thursday night as the Timberwolves matched up with the Toronto Raptors in Canada.

With the ball near the top of the arc and with the Raptors defense collapsing on the Minnesota guards, Towns saw an opportunity to split the defense and run to the rim with the ball.

Toronto C Jonas Valanciunas slid over to meet Towns at the rim, but there wasn’t much anyone could do.

https://streamable.com/sixp

Spurs’ Pau Gasol goofs, heads toward Bulls locker room in return to Chicago (VIDEO)

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Pau Gasol spent two seasons at the United Center with the Chicago Bulls, so it made sense that when he returned as a member of the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, he would know his way around. In fact, Gasol knows the bowels of Chicago’s home arena so well that he wound up walking toward the wrong locker room as a force of habit.

During the NBA on TNT’s coverage of the game, reporter Allie LaForce showed cameras following Gasol after he said hello to some folks in the tunnel.

Unfortunately, Gasol walked about 15 feet before realizing he was heading to the wrong side.

Maybe it was something of an indicator for the night, as the first few quarters of play between the Spurs and the Bulls were extremely sloppy.

Bucks fans chant “SoundCloud rapper” at Blazers star Damian Lillard

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Damian Lillard had the No. 1 hip-hop album on iTunes. Milwaukee Bucks fans still think he needed to get taken down a peg, so on Wednesday during a game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Bucks, fans in Milwaukee had a message for Lillard.

Well, it was more of a cheer:

Via Twitter:

If you can’t quite make out what Bucks fans are saying, it was pretty simple: “Sound-Cloud rap-per!”

Lillard famously began his rapping career as an NBA player by releasing songs on SoundCloud — a mostly-free online audio hosting site — but he’s now graduated to a big release with professional production and guest spots by industry legends like Lil’ Wayne, Juvenile, and Jamie Foxx. His debut full-length album came out in October and is called “The Letter O”.

The Blazers superstar also started his own label in November.

Still, the Bucks arena experience is pretty great considering the coordinated t-shirts, the Bandwagon Cam, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.