67RIEFNS No. 1: Tom Thibodeau managing his bigs

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The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the doldrums of the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order over the coming weeks.

Tom Thibodeau has a reputation for running his top players into the ground with high minutes, and it’s not totally deserved.

It’s just mostly deserved.

Since Thibodeau began coaching Chicago four years ago, the Bulls have four of the top 11 minute-per-game seasons.* No other team had more than one.

*Luol Deng in 2011-12 (39.4), Deng in 2010-11 (39.1), Jimmy Butler in 2013-14 (38.7) and Deng in 2012-13 (38.7)

Aside from Derrick Rose, whose injury history DEMANDS careful minute management, Chicago’s top talent is concentrated at power forward and center. With Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls are absolutely loaded at the 4/5.

There are only 96 minutes per game to go around at those positions, though. Based on last year’s minutes per game Noah (35.3), Gasol (31.4) and Gibson (28.7) nearly fill that, totaling 95.4.

I suppose Thibodeau could get imaginative/foolish and play all three together. But there’s a much bigger chance he could use Mike Dunleavy and/or Doug McDermott a bit as stretch fours, And there’s a much, much bigger chance Mirotic deserves regular playing time.

Finding minutes for everyone will be a squeeze.

One area the Bulls’ front office and Thibodeau reportedly don’t see eye to eye is the coach’s minutes distribution. This could be Gar Forman’s way of forcing Thibodeau’s hand.

I believe coaches are predisposed to play their best players as much as possible. Thibodeau just acts on that inclination more than most. Will that continue now that he has so many options at one position? Will depth give Thibodeau the strength to counter his instinct to identify top players and use them extensively?

I can’t wait to find out.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.