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.
The Charlotte Hornets announced today that guard Julyan Stone has suffered a Grade 2 strain of his left hamstring. The injury occurred in practice on Sunday, Oct. 22 and he did not travel with the team to Milwaukee. Stone is listed as out for tonight’s game against the Bucks and his expected recovery time is estimated at four to six weeks.
The Hornets have been outscored by an astounding 35.8 points per 100 possessions without starter Kemba Walker, producing an offensive rating of just 61.4. That’s in just 23 minutes, but the problem dates back to last season, when Charlotte was outscored by 7.0 points per 100 possessions with a 100.7 offensive rating sans Walker.
Now, the Hornets have little choice but to turn to rookie Malik Monk. Monk is a scoring guard, but his 6-foot-3 size means he has at least worked on playing point guard. Is he ready to play the position full-time for a team eying the playoffs. Probably not, but he’ll just have to do his best to keep Charlotte afloat in the few minutes Walker rests.
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. This is what you missed on Sunday while wondering if oyster vending machines are a good idea. (They’re not.)
1) Eric Bledsoe Tweets he wants out, hours later it’s Earl Watson who is out, fired as Suns coach. The Suns are a bad team, one that lacked offensive cohesion and defensive effort. Phoenix was blown out by 48 points by the Trail Blazers in their first game, the worst opening night loss in NBA history. It was an ugly start to the season. How could things possibly get worse from there?
Well, how about the Suns get blown out by 42 points in the third game of the season, have their best player Tweet he “doesn’t want to be here” then turn around and fire the coach? That’s what happened, and Earl Watson is out in Phoenix.
Watson was 33-85 as the Suns head coach, but that record isn’t a fair way to judge him — Suns management made him sit Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler to tank at the end of last season, much to Watson’s frustration. This is a young team this season that is not going to be good no matter who coached it. But Watson’s Suns didn’t seem to have a strong offensive identity, didn’t play hard on defense, and there were doubts about his ability to develop young talent. Watson took over as an interim coach after the Suns fired Jeff Hornacek, then he went an unimpressive 9-24 in that role. However, he preached love and togetherness at a time the franchise needed it, and the players loved him, so despite the record management decided to give him a shot as a guy who could develop talent. Watson and GM Ryan McDonough were notoriously rarely on the same page, but Robert Sarver is not the kind of owner who will pay a couple of coaches at once, and the players loved Watson, so he stayed. Then, Eric Bledsoe tweeted this.
I’m not saying the two things are directly related, but if Watson was losing the players, he had little left.
The only question about this move is “why did they wait three games into the season?” Why not make their move over the summer, allowing a new coach to have a training camp to change the tenor of the team? Former Raptor coach (and Canadian national team coach) Jay Triano gets the job in the short term.
The Suns are a young, developing team but with some good pieces already in place — Devin Booker, Josh Jackson — and some guys who need to be brought along (Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss). They need a strong developmental head coach, someone who can install a mindset and get the young guys playing hard. The Suns are going to lose a lot of games this season, and end up with a high draft pick, they are building for the future. They need their process, and they need a coach who can lead it.
2) Carmelo Anthony drains game-winning three… wait, no it’s Andrew Wiggins who drains game-winner for Timberwolves. For a couple of games (this one and the previous one against the Jazz) the Thunder have struggled with their offensive rhythm. Or, more accurately, they just missed shots. Through three quarters the Russell Westbrook/Paul George/Carmelo Anthony trio was 17-of-43 (39.5 percent) and 3-of-10 from three.
But after the Thunder second unit made it a game again, Westbrook found his groove late — he took over the offense, attacking, and going 6-of-9 in the fourth. Then came the big finish. Karl-Anthony Towns — who was a beast again with 27 points and 12 boards (but needs to take fewer threes if he keeps missing like this) — put the Timberwolves up two. With 8.9 seconds left Westbrook drove, drew two defenders, then shared the rock, found Anthony… and just watch for yourself.
Underrated on that last play: Towns set a massive screen to free up Wiggins and get him that look. Wiggins did not call bank, but as Paul Pierce said last season he did call game.
3) Clippers’ Milos Teodosic out indefinitely. The NBA just got a little less fun to watch. The Clippers brought the passing wizard over from Serbia as a 30-year-old rookie, and he was dishing.
Unfortunately, Teodosic is out indefinitely with a plantar fascia injury. The concern with the Clippers this season was not the talent but the health of a team leaning on Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari, and others with long injury histories. Hopefully for Los Angeles, the Teodosic injury is not the start of a trend.