Eastern Conference Round 2 Playoff Preview: Chicago vs. Atlanta

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SEASON RECORDS
Bulls: 62-20 (No. 1 seed in East)
Hawks: 44-38(No. 5 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Bulls 2-1, all three games took place in a three-week span in March. The Hawks win was by three points at home, the Bulls two wins (one at home, one on the road) were by 18 and 33 points.

PLAYOFF SERIES
Bulls: defeated Indiana Pacers 4-1
Hawks: defeated Orlando Magic 4-2

SERIES SCHEDULE (times Eastern)
Game 1 — Mon. May 2 at Chicago 8:00PM (TNT)
Game 2 — Wed. May 4 at Chicago 8:00PM (TNT)
Game 3 — Fri. May 6 at Atlanta TBD (ESPN)
Game 4 – Sun. May 8 at Atlanta 8:00PM (TNT)
Game 5 * Tue. May 10 at Chicago TBD (TNT)
Game 6 * Thu. May 12 at Atlanta TBD (ESPN)
Game 7 * Sun. May 15 at Chicago TBD (TNT)
* If necessary

KEY INJURIES
Bulls: Carlos Boozer will play but is battling a case of turf toe, which could make him less effective (Jazz fans, stop laughing).
Hawks: Kirk Hinrich, we don’t know the extent of his hamstring injury suffered in Game 6 of the Magic series, but he left the game and will have an MRI Friday.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per possession)
Bulls: Offense 105.4 (12th in NBA); Defense 97.4 (1st in NBA)
Hawks: Offense 103.7 (20th in NBA); Defense 104.1 (15th in NBA)

THREE KEY BULLS

Derrick Rose. He remains the focal point of the Bulls offense and the creator of most shot opportunities — but the Pacers and Paul George did a good job of making him less efficient. He shot just 37 percent in that series, the Pacers did about as well as could be expected, even though Rose made big plays as a closer in the series. In the Bulls two wins against the Hawks, he had big games, but he had just 12 in their one loss. The Hawks do not have a good defensive matchup for Rose, he should have more free space this series.

Luol Deng. He will draw some key defensive assignments, probably some Joe Johnson time as one might expect. He’s also key because in the Bulls two wins he had big games, 27 points in the 33-point blowout Bulls win. They will need his offense like that again.

Joakim Noah. As always his job is primarily defensive, but this time he draws one tough task — Al Horford. Yes, technically as the center he could draw Jason Collins for stretches, but let’s be serious, Collins has served his purpose for the Hawks and he is no longer a threat. In the Hawks regular season win against Chicago Horford had 31 and 16. Noah also will be the strong side help to silence the Hawks isolation sets. If he has a good defensive series the Bulls will win and win quickly.

THREE KEY HAWKS

Jamal Crawford. Coach Larry Drew went to more isolation sets in the first round against Orlando, and Crawford returned to his Sixth Man of the Year form. The Hawks need shot creation in this series, they need to find a way to break down the Bulls overload defense and Crawford is one of their best chances.

Al Horford. The real way to break down the Bulls defense is not isolations on the perimeter but beating them inside. Horford is a gifted interior player and it’s no coincidence he had 31 in the Hawks one win over the Bulls. For them to have any chance in this series he will have to have some monster games.

Joe Johnson. The Bulls defense is designed to shut down the exact iso-Joe sets that the Hawks have had success with in the first round against Orlando. Johnson is going to have to both hit some contested jumpers but mostly he has move the ball to the weakside with quick passes (skip passes ideally).

OUTLOOK

This is about the best matchup the Bulls could have gotten.

The Hawks ball-movement offense that didn’t work well for them all season long worked less well against the rest of the league worked less well against the Bulls. They averaged 80 points per game (down from 94.8) and had an offensive rating of 92.4 (points per 100 possessions, down from 103.2 during the season). The Hawks shot fewer threes, got to the line less often, didn’t rebound as well and a host of other problems.

But those are the old Hawks, you say. The new Hawks of this postseason — the ones who just knocked off the Magic — have gone back to more of the isolation sets they are comfortable with. They are getting more from Jamal Crawford.

The Bulls defense is designed specifically to stop isolation sets. It overloads the strong side and the only way you really beat it is good ball movement. Which we established the Hawks do not do well.

Meanwhile, the Bulls were basically just a slightly better version of themselves against the Hawks. Rose was good and when he was somebody — Deng mostly — came with him and that provided enough offense to win.

The Hawks best chance is to create turnovers and run more. The Bulls defense is a wall when it is set but they can be beat in transition. The Hawks need to create turnovers and push the ball on everything. They have to defend better than they have all season. They have to find someone who can slow Rose.

They need to play a lot better than they did to beat the Magic. The Bulls just need to be the Bulls.

PREDICTION

Like I said before, this may be the best matchup for the Bulls this playoffs.

Bulls in 5.

Paul Pierce: ‘There is no loyalty to a franchise anymore … That’s the generation we live in’

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After Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Paul Pierce criticized players for changing teams to win.

Now, Pierce is providing an assessment of players just changing teams generally.

Brian Robb of Boston Sports Journal:

To be fair, Pierce doesn’t criticize players for not being loyal to franchises. In fact, he brings up that players are exercising their power.

But it’s still hard not to infer at least some disapproval from Pierce.

Why should players be loyal to franchises, though? Top players are assigned to teams through an anti-labor draft, the least successful teams getting the highest priority of selection. Those players are kept on an artificially low wage for five years can’t unilaterally leave the team for five years. If he plays well enough, his original team has a huge financial advantage in keeping him for up to 14 years. In this system, teams exercise far more control than they earn loyalty.

Players have such short careers. They should chase whatever they want. Money, winning, role, location, even steadiness with a franchise – if they choose.

Pierce spent 15 years with the Celtics, but let’s not forget:

Pierce asked the Mavericks to trade for him in 2005 so he could play with Dirk Nowitzkion a team one star away from contending. In 2007, he reportedly told the Celtics to trade him if they didn’t add a second star. Boston, of course, traded for Ray Allen and then convinced Kevin Garnett to waive his no-trade clause. In 2013, Pierce helped engineer a trade to the Nets. He and Garnett joined Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopezin Brooklyn and Pierce said, “We’re all about winning a championship and Brooklyn, we feel, gives us the best opportunity.” After stints with the Nets and Wizards, Pierce signed with the Clippers, which he described as a super team.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss: ‘I have complete faith in Magic Johnson … I have patience’

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Shortly after she hired Magic Johnson as team president last year, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said she’d be heartbroken if the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star in 2018, when the game was in Los Angeles. Her urgency was apparent.

Of course, the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star last season. None came close.

But then they signed LeBron James this summer, and Buss has changed her tune.

The Rich Eisen Show:

Buss:

I have complete faith in Magic Johnson in terms of his ability to be a leader, to know how to put together a winner. And I have patience. And I think what he’s done has exceeded my expectations, how quickly they’ve kind of turned around the roster.

Johnson has done a great job running the Lakers. He cleared cap space while maintaining plenty of assets and convinced LeBron to sign.

The degree of difficulty on that is… debatable. Perhaps, LeBron just decided to join the Lakers and didn’t need much convincing.

What’s next for Johnson?

Maybe Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee will fit well with LeBron. Maybe Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are ready to compete deep into the playoffs.

I’m skeptical, which means Johnson’s next steps will be tricky. He has more than earned Buss’ faith, and her patience gives him even more latitude to build as he sees fit.

Still, it’s a bit odd to see a team acquire a 33-year-old superstar then shift into a more-patient approach. LeBron’s prime won’t last forever.

It’s on Johnson to maximize it.

Danny Ainge roasts Celtics players on Twitter

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Celtics president Danny Ainge has built a star-studded and deep team. Boston even has a few extra first-round picks to get even better in future years. The Celtics have 15 players with standard contracts, the regular-season limit. Unlike last year, Boston probably won’t swing a major late-summer trade.

So, Ainge is spending his time clowning his players.

He got Jaylen Brown:

Then Terry Rozier:

Do more, Danny! Kyrie Irving is overdue for another social-media feud.

Did Kevin Durant choose Warriors within day of Thunder losing to them in 2016?

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The Warriors eliminated the Thunder in the 2016 Western Conference finals on May 30. On the following July 4, Durant announced he’d leave Oklahoma City for Golden State.

But when did Durant actually decide on signing with the Warriors?

Durant, Rich Kleiman (Durant’s business partner) and Rudy Cline-Thomas (Andre Iguodala‘s business partner) sat on a panel at Bloomberg’s Players Technology Summit.

Cline-Thomas, as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Remember 2017, you just lost to the Warriors — no 2016, you had just lost the Warriors, May — you and I get together after the game. I thought I was just gonna focus on not talking about basketball, and you wanted to focus on talking about Silicon Valley — asking me how it was out here.

“You had been following what Andre and I were doing, how it was being surrounded by all these CEOs, innovators and entrepreneurs. And I was like, ‘Wow. First and foremost, like yo — this dude just told me he’s about to sign with the Warriors, right (laughter). So, I was like I’m not gonna tell anybody, didn’t tell anybody whatsoever, didn’t want any rumors to get started…”

Durant on when he began thinking differently about business opportunities, via Shiller:

“Probably about 2015, I had got hurt. Basketball had always been my world … it stopped, and I had to think about other parts of my life and what I was interested in … it was rough because I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I liked or what type of person I wanted to be … I started to hear about Andre and more guys around the NBA — especially that play for the Warriors — that took advantage of the opportunities of being in the Bay Area.

“So throughout that whole year, me and Rich were talking about investing in companies and what I like to do outside of ball. Then I (saw) you and just all those questions came out at once and I was basically telling you I was coming to the Warriors (laughter).”

Kleiman, via Shiller:

“Well I just learned that he told you in May, before free agency — which is hardly factual, which we’ll have to clear up with Marc Spears and everybody here (laughter) — no way did that happen, but cool… (laughter).”

Did Durant really tell Cline-Thomas in May of a plan to sign with the Warriors? Did Durant know his intentions and inadvertently show his hand while talking to Cline-Thomas? Did Durant not consciously know where he’d sign but reveal clues to Cline-Thomas during their conversation? Were Durant and Cline-Thomas just joking?

Was Kleiman trying to set the record straight? Was he just trying to cover for Durant?

Durant was back in Oklahoma City for a press conference June 1, 2016. So, when Cline-Thomas says “after the game,” it sounds as if he meant the night of Game 7.

Of course, that will raise all kinds of questions about Durant’s competitiveness in the 2016 Western Conference finals. If he had one foot out the door to join the Warriors, how motivated was he to beat them? But Durant was awesome throughout that series. Golden State was just a great team. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he compartmentalized his feelings on the Warriors while facing them.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if he decided on Golden State shortly after the series. Draymond Green recruited Durant throughout that season. The Warriors’ desire to add Durant and their high level of appeal was well-established. Even without tampering, they didn’t have to wait until free agency officially began to become Durant’s choice. The NBA can control timing of permissible contact – not Durant’s mind.

It’s just tough to tell exactly what to take from Durant’s, Cline-Thomas’ and Kleiman’s comments – even with context of video: