It’s more than likely that the Chicago Bulls prepared to play a very different version of the Wizards team they ultimately faced to open the playoffs on Sunday.
Washington big man Nene had missed 21 games due to a knee injury, and had just barely begun to make his way back into the rotation for four out of his team’s last five regular season contests.
But he got the start in Game 1 of the playoffs in Chicago, and the Bulls had no answer. Nene finished with a team-high 24 points, to go along with eight rebounds, three assists and a couple of steals in leading the Wizards to a 102-93 victory.
Chicago’s defense did the job in shutting down John Wall and Bradley Beal, who combined to shoot just 7-of-25 from the field while scoring 29 points. But they were killed inside, with Nene and Marcin Gortat combining for 39 points and 21 rebounds.
All season long, it’s been the defense that’s won games for the Bulls. Chicago ranked second in the league in defensive efficiency, and somehow managed to secure the four seed in the East with an offense that ranked among the league’s worst. The Bulls forced just 10 turnovers in this one, however, and allowed the Wizards to shoot better than 48 percent.
There isn’t any one player Chicago can turn to for help offensively, but what the team can’t have is someone like D.J. Augustin playing 32 minutes off then bench and finishing just 3-of-15 from the field. Combine that with a rough 4-of-12 shooting night for Mike Dunleavy, along with limited touches for Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, and it gives you Chicago’s undesirable result.
The infusion of Nene into the starting lineup could have been enough of a wild card to steal Game 1, but the Bulls now are aware of exactly what they’re up against. It’ll be up to Tom Thibodeau to make the necessary adjustments, but Washington’s chances improve immensely with Nene on the floor, and the Bulls will need to find consistent offense from somewhere in order to even the series in Game 2 on Tuesday.
Cavaliers have offered Anderson Varejao a championship ring. Does he take it?
In the middle of last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers let go of long-time Cav and fan favorite Anderson Varejao to make room for Channing Frye, a stretch four they thought would be more valuable in the playoffs. In hindsight it seems the right move.
After a cap clearing move in Portland, Varejao ended up on the bench of the Golden State Warriors. We all know the story from there, including Varejao getting some meaningful minutes after Andrew Bogut went down, but it wasn’t enough for Golden State.
Which brings us to the awkward championship ring conversation. Usually, an iconic team player like Varejao would get one from the Cavaliers, but will Varejao want this one? From Marc Stein of ESPN:
Anderson. Varejao says the Cavaliers have indeed offered him a championship ring but says he hasn't decided yet whether to accept it.
Is there a correct answer for Varejao? A wrong answer? I can’t blame him either way.
He is on the Warriors roster again this season, and he once again could get meaningful minutes (now behind Zaza Pachulia). Does he decide that one with this team is what he wants (and will bet is going to happen)? Nobody can answer all these questions for him.
Nuggets retiring Dikembe Mutombo’s number at first home game
Mutombo spent his best years with the Hawks, but he was pretty darn good with the Nuggets, who drafted him No. 4 overall in 1991. He won a Defensive Player of the Year award and went to three All-Star games with Denver. Playing for the Nuggets, he also produced the most iconic image of his career: lying on the floor and clutching the ball in jubilation after Denver became the first No. 8 seed to upset the No. 1 seed (Seattle SuperSonics in 1994):
Draymond Green says he doesn’t want to chase 74 wins: “It’s brutal.”
If the Warriors have been consistent about one thing in the run-up to the coming season it is this: They are not going for a record number of wins again.
From the GM on down they have worked to tamp down expectations about their regular season, saying there is no goal of chasing their 73-win total of last season. This is how Draymond Green put it on media day, via Sam Amick of the USA Today.
Draymond Green: "To be quite frank with you, I don't even want to win 74 games, or 75 games. It's brutal."
Last season Steve Kerr and some of the staff were hesitant to chase the Jordan-era Bulls 72-win record, but it was a push from the players — Draymond Green being at the front of that parade — who wanted it. They pushed, and Kerr let them. They got 73. Was that lack of rest down the stretch the reason they were down 3-1 to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals, then blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals against Cleveland? Certainly not, there were plenty of other bigger factors (hello LeBron James), but it may have played some role. Clearly, the team thinks it did, based on their words and actions.
However, the Warriors still want the No. 1 seed in the West and will make that a goal. The question is, with an excellent regular season team in San Antonio — one that had a better point differential than the Warriors last season, then they added Pau Gasol — how many wins will it take to get the top seed in the West? 65? More? How hard will the Warriors and Spurs push to get home court throughout?
The Warriors aren’t going for the record, but the top of the West is still going to be an interesting place.
Mike D’Antoni declares James Harden the Rockets’ point guard (‘points guard’)
With James, we’ll make a cheap joke. He’ll be a points guard.
We just renamed it. You guys got something to write about.
Harden already controlled the ball a ton, taking primary playmaking and distributing responsibilities last season. This just gets the ball into his hands quicker and should allow the Rockets to play faster, a key component of D’Antoni’s offense.
Of course, D’Antoni’s offense functioned best when Steve Nash – more of a pure passer – ran it with the Suns. Harden won’t duplicate that. His passing ability is more predicated on taking advantage of his scoring threat. But Harden – who, like Nash, is an excellent ball-handler – could make the offense hum in his own way.
Even though D’Antoni is trying to downplay the position switch, it’s a notable shift. Harden fully commanding the offense is a grand experiment with major upside (and potential for a rocky downside).