NBA Playoffs: Bulls get back to basics, even up series against Hawks

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If Game 1 between the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks was an aberration — after all, the Hawks converted tough jumpers at an extremely high rate, and rode the high of those makes into a well-executed defense and an improbable victory — then Game 2 was oddly typical.

The Bulls are no strangers to offensive inefficiency, and on those nights when Derrick Rose struggles to keep his turnovers down or his field goal percentage up, Chicago still holds the means to gut out ugly wins. For all of Rose’s strengths, the Bulls didn’t climb to the top of the Eastern Conference standings due only to the brilliance of his drives or his ability to set up his teammates; Chicago won a gaudy number of games by leading the NBA in effective field goal percentage allowed and dominating the boards on both ends of the court. The Bulls are as active and bothersome as any team in the league on the defensive end, and though Game 2 began with the MVP trophy being presented to Rose in front of his home crowd, it ended with the Bulls taking care of business in a manner that only included Rose as one valuable part of a successful team-wide effort.

The Bulls were back to their dominant ways on the glass, as they grabbed 32.6 percent of the available offensive boards while limiting the Hawks to a far lower mark on the other end. Joakim Noah — who had seven offensive rebounds and 14 boards overall to go along with his 15 points — was the star in that effort, but Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng grabbed a combined 19 defensive rebounds to prevent the misfiring Hawks from securing any extra opportunities.

Atlanta’s shot selection finally came back to bite them, and without a superior rebounding performance like the one they had in Game 1, the Hawks had no means to score reliably. Jamal Crawford and Josh Smith made some particularly questionable decisions, but the less prolific output from Joe Johnson (who finished with 16 points, just a few shy of his 34-point outburst from Game 1) was just as damaging to Atlanta’s cause. The Bulls didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard, but the Hawks still had trouble keeping pace, and scored at a rate of just 83 points per 100 possessions. That mark is atrocious, but was an inevitable result of Atlanta’s desire to shoot contested jumpers and live with the consequences.

The problems of Atlanta’s offense were due to no explicit fault of Jeff Teague’s, as the emergency point guard dropped a team-high 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field. That said, Teague’s limitations did come into play; Johnson and Crawford initiated much of Atlanta’s offense, and while that strategic decision minimized Teague’s turnovers (he didn’t commit a single TO in Game 2, after giving the ball away just once in Game 1), it put a lot of pressure on Atlanta’s ball-handling wings to create a stable offense. That’s possible when all of the Hawks’ jumpers are falling, but once the defensive pressure increases and the exasperation sets in, the Hawks sometimes stymie their own offense at the point of attack. To a degree, it becomes less about what the Bulls are doing defensively and more about what the Hawks aren’t doing offensively. The ball movement becomes unproductive, the cuts and curls are mere tokens, the effort to really run a legitimate offense is subpar. These are the realities of the typical Atlanta Hawks, and even though Teague is doing an admirable job of filling in for Kirk Hinrich, the absence of the Hawks’ true starting point guard has stifled their already stiflable offense considerably. Things were going to be tough for Atlanta to maintain their offensive production even with Hinrich in the lineup (as-was?), but now this team seems capable of little more on the offensive end than splashes of hot shooting and benefiting from their occasional good fortune. It’s not easy for any team to execute against Chicago’s defense, but Atlanta doesn’t make it any easier on themselves, either.

Game 2 fell more in line with series expectation, though it’s likely that Chicago’s offense will improve from here through schematic means; we already saw a foundation for improvement with an increase in side screen-and-roll action, a fairly effective counter to the defensive pressure that had kept Rose from getting to the basket in Game 1. If the Bulls continue to work those side angles and implement more variety into their pick-and-roll attack while spacing the floor well, they’ll create more opportunities for Rose to charge toward the rim with a full head of steam or use his active dribble to create new passing lanes. Atlanta, on the other hand, is still too reliant on the bounce of the ball, not to mention the often questionable decision-making ability of its high-usage players. Johnson, Crawford, and Smith are often too willing to take a poorly chosen shot or stop the ball with isolation play, and though on their best days those three are a sight to behold, the norm is something a bit less fantastic. It’s 4-of-14 shooting for Smith with four turnovers. It’s 2-of-10 shooting from Crawford and a -9 plus-minus for the game, the single lowest for any player on either team. It’s dreadfully low scoring efficiency in what could have been a very winnable contest.

This is the result of a game in which the Hawks are the Hawks and the Bulls are the Bulls. If Atlanta wants to win a few more games and make this a series, they had better start working toward a few more aberrations.

J.R. Smith reportedly met with Bucks Thursday to talk about contract

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After five seasons in Cleveland, the Cavaliers waived J.R. Smith. The 34-year-old veteran wing is not part of the Cavaliers future, and by waiving him before the guarantee date they only had to pay him $4.4 million of this $15.7 million salary.

That makes Smith a free agent.

He sat down with the Bucks on Thursday, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Bucks can only offer minimum contracts at this point.

Smith will turn 34 before next season starts and his skills are in decline, he shot just 30.8 percent from three last season. The Bucks will likely start Khris Middleton and Wesley Matthews on the wing with Sterling Brown, Pat Connaughton, and Donte DiVincenzo behind them. They have the roster spot to make the addition. The questions are does Smith fit, does he want the small role that’s really available, and how often will he wear a shirt around the facility?

Mark Cuban says NBA player movement reflects job market across many industries

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It’s a question that came up a lot in the wake of a wild summer where eight of the 24 players in the All-Star Game just last February ended up on new teams:

Is all this player movement good for the NBA?

It got asked everywhere from the league’s headquarters to your local bar, from sports talk radio shows to the NBA’s owners meeting in Las Vegas. There’s no easy answer to that. However, the divide seems to be somewhat generational — older fans miss the stability of knowing their stars would be there next year, young fans like the volatility and fast-changing landscape.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had an interesting perspective on all this: What you see in the NBA is what you see in almost every industry now. From Cuban’s blogmaverick.com:

Some feel that the player movement we have seen, particularly players asking to be traded or leaving teams that have the ability to pay them more money is a problem. I don’t. I think it is exactly what we should expect and it reflects what is happening in the job market across industries in our country.

No longer do college students graduate in search of a career where they expect to spend their entire adult lives working for a single company. Just the thought is crazy. I tell college graduates to look for a job where they get to learn about themselves, the business world, adulting and what they love to do and can be good at it. That their first job is just that, their first job. There will be many more…

Your best of the best will be impactful not only within the company, but via social media and other online platforms, visible as the best in their industry. It is important to give them reasons to want to stay. Great employees are effectively always free agents with the ability to move anywhere.

Why should it be any different for the NBA?

It’s interesting to hear from an owner (guys who traditionally want to control the workers). From a player’s perspective, this makes a lot of sense (and Cuban is as player-friendly an owner as the league has).

In a lot of ways, what bothers fans really applies to only the elite players, the guys with leverage, the guys who change the course of a franchise. If Paul George wants out of his contract, the reaction of Thunder management and fans would be different from if Dennis Schroder tried that kind of power move.

However, does this player movement erode the traditional fan base? Fans in Dallas/Miami/Boston/Los Angeles/everywhere want to identify with players, not just the logo across their chest. If the star players are changing teams more often how does that impact that traditional fandom? Do younger players become fans of players more: A LeBron James fan, a Stephen Curry fan, a James Harden fan, and their loyalties follow the player not the franchise? We seem to have more of that with Lebron and Curry. Cuban worked hard to make sure Dirk Nowitzki never left Dallas. (Going back there was a split between Lakers fans and Kobe fans, it’s just their interests largely always aligned.)

Which leads to the original, key question: Is all this player movement good for NBA business?

For the league and owners, the real question is will the undeniable social media buzz of the NBA offseason lead to increased ticket sales, increased viewership (or at least stopping that decline), more purchasing of League Pass packages (in whatever form), more jersey sales and all the rest of it? Can the league monetize this buzz?

Nobody has the answer to that, in part because how we as a nation (and world) consume media is changing so fast. What will the viewing landscape for the NBA’s television and streaming deals look like in 2024? 2029? Nobody knows.

Which means predicting how this player movement impacts the NBA is an unknown.

All the movement is creating a lot of buzz, which is nice, but buzz will not pay the NBA’s bills.

Damian Lillard on shot to beat Thunder: ‘That was for Seattle’

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Damian Lillard is a legend in Portland. He’s a legend in Oakland.

And now he’ll be a legend in Seattle.

The Trail Blazers star’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer wave goodbye ended the season for the Thunder, who moved to Oklahoma City from Seattle 12 years ago.

Lillard on Sports Business Radio Podcast:

What can I say? That was for Seattle.

Just when I thought Lillard’s shot and celebration were as cold as could be.

Clippers executive Jerry West: ‘I’ve never been around any organization that is better than this one’

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Jerry West played 14 years for the Lakers, making the All-Star game every year and winning a championship in a Hall of Fame career. He coached the Lakers to a few playoff seasons. Then, he ran the Lakers’ front office for 18 years, winning five titles and setting the stage for several more by acquiring Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Now, West works for Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

West on The Dan Patrick Show:

Steve Ballmer has really put together an unbelievably terrific organization. He’s spared no expense. It’s a really fun place to be. There’s not ego-driven at all. It’s just a fun place to be, and he’s got an awful lot of basketball people over there.

He’s just a great owner and one of the nicest men I’ve ever been around in my life. I’ve never seen a person like this with his success. It’s just remarkable how even-keeled he is. If people knew how philanthropic he was. He keeps all that stuff quiet. I guess he’ll get mad at me for mentioning it. But he’s just a remarkable man himself.

People always ask me what he’s like. And I say he’s just like you and I, normal. I’ve never seen – he’s willing to spend on players. He’s willing to spend on personnel within the front office. And as I mentioned before, I’ve never been around any organization that is better than this one. That’s for sure.

Maybe West is bitter at the Lakers. Maybe West is just gushing about his current boss, because that’s who pays him now.

But the wider respect held for the Clippers is evident in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George picking them without the team first getting an incumbent star. That says a lot about the organization, one that Ballmer has put his stamp on.

This also feels like a shot at the Lakers, whether or not West intended it. Many consider them to be the NBA’s golden franchise.

But their operations have had no shortage of problems lately.

The Lakers would have a stronger relative case further back, when West worked for them. However, organizations generally run better now. The league is more advanced. Maybe West is considering that.

Biases aside, his endorsement of the Clippers might be accurate.

West also worked for the Grizzlies.