NBA Playoff Preview: Chicago vs. Indiana

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SEASON RECORDS
Bulls: 62-20 (No. 1 seed in East)
Pacers: 37-45 (No. 8 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Bulls 3-1, with the Pacers winning the most recent when Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough just took over.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Bulls: Off. 105.4 (12th in NBA); Def. 97.4 (1st in NBA)
Pacers: Off. 101.8 (23rd in NBA)’ Def. 103.5 (12th in NBA)

THREE KEY BULLS:

Derrick Rose: The soon-to-be MVP is pretty much everything to the Bulls offense — he is the guy they run off screens to get shots, he is the guy they give the ball to in isolation. What will be interesting in this series, and particularly as the playoffs move on, is how the Bulls adjust when teams make it a priority to get the ball out of Rose’s hands.

Luol Deng: He is key in two ways: 1) He will get the defensive matchups on Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy Jr., the two guys the Bulls will key on stopping; 2) He is the difference between the Bulls having an average offense and a good one. Rose will get his, as will Carlos Boozer most nights, but when Deng gets going with them the Bulls offense is infinitely harder to stop.

Taj Gibson: The Bulls depth — and the ability of that depth to control Mike Dunleavy and Josh McRoberts off the Pacers bench — will be one of their keys in this series. Gibson (or whoever the Pacers put on Dunleavy) needs to make him work on defense as well. Which means attack the rim, when Gibson spots up he is far less dangerous. He needs to use his athleticism and attack.

THREE KEY PACERS

Danny Granger: Indiana has got to find a way to score on the Bulls stout defense, and Granger is the guy most capable of creating his own shot and knocking it down. His game has taken a step back this season — he is not shooting at as high a percentage, he is turning over the ball more — but simply put he must have a monster series for the Pacers to have any chance.

Darren Collison: No one man can stop Derrick Rose, it takes a team effort. But Collison is the first line of defense. He has to guide Rose to help, he has to create turnovers and make life hard for Rose, and when the Pacers decide to trap or take other steps to get the ball out of Rose’s hands, he cannot let Rose just split the double and waltz inside. The other key for Collison — holding on to the ball. Collison can be a turnover machine, particularly when he is handling the ball on the pick-and-roll. The Bulls are one of the best pick-and-roll defending teams in the league. If he turns the ball over and the Bulls get easy points in transition, the Pacers will not be able to keep up.

Mike Dunleavy Jr.: The Pacers take a lot of jump shots and Dunleavy is their best guy curling off screens and on catch-and-shoots — the things the Bulls are going to make very hard but the Pacers have to execute to have a chance. He has to get looks and he is going to have to knock down some contested shots for the Pacers to have any chance. And he should put the ball on the floor too (which he is better at than people think, he’s got a pretty rounded game).

OUTLOOK

The Bulls are the league’s best defensive team; the Pacers are a pretty good defensive team. So rule one, bet the under. The key here is the Pacers are not a good offensive team either and what strengths they do have play right into the hands of the Bulls defense. That showed in the regular season meetings when the Pacers mostly struggled to score.

Indiana likes to run guys off screens, have them pop out to open spaces for quick shots or to get room to attack — you can bet the Bulls will bump guys off those lines in this series. Chicago will grind it out, take Pacers players off their preferred lines. Also, the Bulls close out hard on shooters, taking away clean looks. Indiana needs to find a way to get some easy buckets.

The best way to attack the Bulls is to get out in transition — the Bulls are not a great transition defense team. Once you let them get set in the half court they are a wall. Problem is, Pacers do not like to get out and run, and they’re not good at it when they do.

On the other end of the floor, the Bulls are going to do what they do, which is run Rose off a series of screens and put him in isolation and get enough points. The Pacers will have some success slowing this, they are a good defensive squad. But will it matter?

Indiana did beat the Bulls once this past season — the Bulls had one of their worst interior defensive games of the season and Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert combined for 44 and 19. Want to bet on them being able to do that four times in seven games?

PREDICTION

The Pacers just do not have the offensive firepower to hang in this series. It’s going to be a low scoring series. Also expect some ugly games. But the Bulls are the better grinders.

Bulls sweep, 4-0.

Giannis Antetokounmpo matches career high with 44 against Cavaliers (VIDEO)

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo played as if he had a point to prove.

The Milwaukee star rebounded from his worst game of the season to match his career high with 44 points and the Bucks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-102 on Friday night despite missing two starters.

Two nights after being held to a season-low 12 points in a loss to Indiana, he was 14 of 19 from the field, made 16 of 21 foul shots, and had 14 rebounds and eight assists.

“You’ve got to put that game in the past,” Antetokounmpo said. “You put it in the past and move forward.”

Khris Middleton, the Bucks’ second leading scorer, was out with a sprained right finger. Malcolm Brogdon, fourth on the team in scoring, didn’t play because of a sore left hamstring.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer wasn’t surprised Antetokounmpo took over with his team short-handed.

“Obviously, a monster game for Giannis,” he said. “We kind of rode him pretty hard tonight. He was ultra-aggressive. He’s a competitor. He wants to be great.”

Asked what a team can do to slow down Antetokounmpo, Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said, “There’s not an answer to that. He’s a terrific player. He’s elevated his game over the years. He can hurt you in so many different ways.”

Not only was Antetokounmpo coming off a subpar game, Wednesday’s 113-97 loss was Milwaukee’s largest margin of the season.

Antetokounmpo made an instant impression after Milwaukee won the opening tip when he dunked on Osman on a set play in the halfcourt offense. He ended the half by finding Pat Connaughton for a 3-pointer.

Antetokounmpo, who had his 20th double-double of the season, admitted he was aware of his numbers.

“At some point in the game, you realize you’re scored a lot, so you look up at the scoreboard, but usually I don’t even look at it,” he said.

The Bucks never trailed and held off a late Cleveland spurt. The Cavaliers cut the lead to five midway through the fourth quarter on Cedi Osman‘s 3-pointer, but Antetokounmpo had a three-point play and an assist on Brook Lopez‘s basket that beat the shot clock, pushing the lead to 111-99.

Lopez scored 19 points and Eric Bledsoe had 16 for the Bucks, who have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Jordan Clarkson scored 23 points, and Larry Nance Jr. had 14 for Cleveland. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton had five points after scoring in double figures in 18 straight games.

Cleveland played its second game without Tristan Thompson, who could be out for a month with a sprained left foot.

Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union aiding student seeking reinstatement to school

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PLANTATION, Fla. (AP) — Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union are backing attorney Benjamin Crump in an effort to help an expelled student and family friend get back into high school.

Wade and Union released a statement Thursday supporting senior Cyrus Nance, who was a basketball player in his first year at American Heritage High until he was expelled last month after a verbal altercation with a coach of another team at the school.

Crump says “every fact in this case points to discrimination.” Nance would like to return to school.

Zaire Wade, the oldest son of the longtime Miami Heat star, also plays at the school. Nance is friends with Zaire Wade and the Wade family.

Crump says the school has refused to release Nance’s transcript until his mother signs a non-disclosure agreement and pays a fee. Wade and Union say they will stand by Nance until he and his mother “get the transparent due process” that they seek.

School officials, citing privacy concerns, did not directly respond to the allegations.

Report: Wizards-Suns-Grizzlies Trevor Ariza-Kelly Oubre trade falls apart due to Brooks confusion

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The Wizards, Suns and Grizzlies, according to multiple reports, agreed to a three-team trade:

Wizards

Suns

  • Give: Trevor Ariza
  • Get: Austin Rivers, Wayne Selden, Brooks

Grizzlies

  • Give: Wayne Selden, Brooks, 2019 second-rounder, 2020 second-rounder
  • Get: Kelly Oubre

But it was unclear which Brooks – Dillon Brooks or MarShon Brooks – Memphis would send to Phoenix. It was initially reported as Dillon then “corrected” to MarShon. But that correction didn’t provide much clarity.

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports:

This is AMAZING. Humans are smarter and more connected than ever before. And a few NBA general managers couldn’t keep their Brooks straight.

Dillon is a 22-year-old with 3-and-D skills and potential to become more of an all-around contributor. MarShon is a ball-dominant 29-year-old who’s generally not efficient enough to justify his high usage.

No wonder Phoenix wanted Dillon. And no wonder Memphis wanted to part with MarShon.

This could leave hurt feelings on all sides. What will Oubre, Ariza, Rivers, Ariza and even the Brooks think now? There’s plenty to clean up after this mess.

Including the tears streaming down my face from the laughter.

Is part of Markelle Fultz’s problem a too-tight, family-dominated inner circle?

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There needs to be context with this story. A lot of context. First, whatever is going on with Markelle Fultz, it cannot be traced to just one thing. It’s never that clean and simple. His agent and lawyer Raymond Brothers is trying to pitch his issues are all physical when clearly there are mental aspects and more involved.

Next, a close-knit family where the mother/dad/uncle is very protective of the elite basketball prospect and is deeply involved in everything is far, far, far from a new story in the NBA. It’s more the norm.

All that said, it’s fair to ask if Markelle Fultz’s family situation is impacting him. The amazing Candace Buckner of the Washington Post delved into this topic, interviewing Fultz’s former trainer Keith Williams among others.

“He’s a sensitive young kid, and I think emotionally he went through so much,” Williams said….

Fultz is now a professional on a four-year contract worth $33 million, but close associates said [his mother] Ebony still goes to great lengths to shield him. During Fultz’s first season in Philadelphia, Ebony had cameras installed inside his New Jersey home, according to several people familiar with the setup who described the indoor surveillance as unusual. The cameras have since been removed. Multiple people said Ebony has asked some who have dealt with Fultz to sign nondisclosure agreements for reasons that are unclear to them…

“There’s definitely crazy [expletive] going on with the mom and how involved she is and how overprotective she is,” said a person with a close connection to Fultz. “The best possible situation is if the mom just backs off for a period of time and gives him a chance to breathe.”

Again, overprotective parents are not new in basketball circles. NBA teams have dealt with it before and generally understand how to make that less of a problem. Just like your parents don’t get to follow you to your first real job after college, NBA parents don’t either. Just ask LaVar Ball.

That said, this concern it adds to the things making it hard to move him in a trade.

Ultimately, what Fultz needs is to be traded to a smaller market where he can develop out of the spotlight and demands that came in Philly. The Sixers are testing the market, but so far no deal has come close. That team will have to deal with everything going on around and with Fultz. And it’s not going to be just one thing.