Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Bulls vs. Heat

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SEASON RECORDS
Bulls: 62-20 (No. 1 seed in East)
Heat: 58-24 (No. 2 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Chicago swept the season series 3-0. The most recent game was in early March, it’s safe to say both these teams are a little different right now. Still, a sweep.

PLAYOFF SERIES
Bulls: defeated Indiana Pacers 4-1, defeated Atlanta Hawks 4-2
Heat: defeated Philadelphia 76ers 4-1, defeated Boston Celtics 4-1

SERIES SCHEDULE (times Eastern)

Game 1 – Sun. May 15 at Chicago, 8:00 p.m.
Game 2 – Wed. May 18 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.
Game 3 – Sun. May 22 at Miami, 8:30 p.m.
Game 4 – Tue. May 24 at Miami – 8:30 p.m.
Game 5 * Thu. May 26 at Chicago – 8:30 p.m.
Game 6 * Sat. May 28 at Miami – 8:30 p.m.
Game 7 * Mon. May 30 at Chicago – 8:30 p.m.

Every game broadcast on TNT.

KEY INJURIES
Bulls: Carlos Boozer will play through a case of turf toe, which has slowed him through the playoffs but didn’t seem to bother him in Game 6 in Atlanta.
Heat: Udonis Haslem is back and playing, and while there are some conditioning issues to be worked out the Heat will take all the depth up front they can get.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per possession)
Bulls: Offense 105.4 (12th in NBA); Defense 97.4 (1st in NBA)
Heat: Offense 109.3 (3rd in NBA); Defense: 100.8 (5th in NBA)

THREE KEY BULLS

Derrick Rose: Interesting bit of work over at Teamrankings.com, looking at the percentage of offense Derrick Rose uses when you count in assists, shots, free throws, all of it. In the playoffs, 42.2 percent of Bulls possessions end with Rose making a play when he is on the floor. Only one person — Dwyane Wade in 2006 — has used a higher percentage of his team’s offense in the playoffs (and won a title). Rose is everything to the Bulls. The Heat have two very good defenders to throw at Rose — Wade and Mario Chalmers — and like the Hawks the Heat will trap and do everything they can to get the ball out of his hands. Rose is going to get knocked around. How well he can withstand that and still be efficient will remain the key to the Bulls offense. Also, in the regular season the Heat were good at not fouling Rose, but he needs to get to the line this series.

If Erik Spoelstra decides to use Mike Bibby on Rose, the Heat deserve what they get.

Carlos Boozer: Someone else has to step up and take the scoring pressure off Rose in this series. It should be Boozer, and if he plays like he did in Game 6 it will be. He worked hard off the ball to get to open spaces for a game, his midrange was falling, he needs to do that all of the next series. He will have one of a couple good defenders on him (Joel Anthony or Chris Bosh) but Boozer has to have a good series for the Bulls to have a chance. Luol Deng could easily be substituted in here, the basic rules are the same.

Taj Gibson: Gibson represents the entire Bulls bench — this is one of the biggest advantages the Bulls have, some real depth. The Heat’s bench has been better than advertised and neither the Sixers nor Celtics have taken advantage of it. But the Bulls must. Gibson has to provide a scoring spark off the bench, and the Bulls bench cannot let on the defensive end of the floor.

THREE KEY HEAT

Dwyane Wade: On the defensive end of the floor, he is going to spend time on Rose and he must be physical with the guy at the heart of the Bulls offense. Then, at the other end of the floor, he (and LeBron) needs to be able to penetrate into the paint the way they did against the Celtics. The Bulls will struggle to matchup on Wade one-on-one, but their help defense is much better than the Celtics right now. He has to work off the ball, he has to move the ball to the weak side. He’s going to have to have a monster series.

Chris Bosh: Things are not about to get easier for Bosh — he just had Kevin Garnett on him, now he’s likely to have Joakim Noah (or Joel Anthony, either way a long and active defender). Bosh sets a lot of the screens for the Heat’s pick-and-roll and while Noah is very good at recover to the rolling big man, Bosh needs to make him pay. Bosh needs to be active on the glass at both ends. He was shut down by Kevin Garnett in the Heat’s loss last series, he cannot be shut down this series for the Heat to get through. Also, he will be doing a lot of trapping and spending a lot of time trying to keep Rose out of the paint.

Mario Chalmers: He is the other guy who will spend a lot of the series matched up on Rose. The Heat need to make Rose inefficient, to trap him and get the ball out of his hands — to make someone else on the Bulls beat them. A big part of that will fall to Chalmers, expect him to get a lot more run than Bibby. If we see a lot of Bibby, the Bulls are in trouble in this series.

OUTLOOK

This is the era we live in — last June the Heat had Wade and not much else, the Bulls had Rose and a couple nice role players but were not sure how to get to the next level. Look at them now, meeting for the rights to go to the finals, the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference.

And this is going to be a real battle.

Rose is, without a doubt, amazing. But he is about to run into a defense far more athletic than he has seen in the playoffs. The Hawks had some success getting the ball out of Rose’s hands with traps and doubles, but the Heat have better defenders and a far more consistent commitment to defense than anything the Bulls have run into so far this series. Rose has to still be effective and he has to draw fouls.

The Bulls have to get more and more consistent scoring from other places — Deng and Boozer are logical choices. In the regular season meetings the Bulls hit very well from the midrange (47 percent, up from 39 percent usually). They will need to do that again, plus they need Kyle Korver or someone else to knock down threes.

The other key for the Bulls to score, they need to get offensive rebounds. That is one place they can dominate.

For the Heat, they are about to run into the best defense they have seen this postseason. Their advantage is they essentially just played against it — the Celtics also run the Tom Thibodeau defense. The Bulls run it better right now, but the principles of working off the ball and having Wade, LeBron and Bosh all actively involved together at the same time remain.

One interesting thing to watch will be the Heat’s pick-and-roll — primarily Bosh sets the high screen for the Heat pick-and-roll, but that will bring out one of the best big men defenders in the game to deal with it in Noah. His ability to hedge out and disrupt the ball handler then recover to the rolling big man is as good as anybody in the league. If he can slow a key Heat play, it will give the Bulls a big advantage.

PREDICTION

This is going to be one hard-fought series. One very entertaining series. A must watch series if you are a basketball fan. Not high scoring, but great to watch. In the end, the Heat’s defense will be more disruptive and able to slow the Bulls offense enough to pull out the wins. The Bulls will certainly slow the Heat down, but their big three they will still get some key transition points (generated by the defense) and make the midrange shots they missed in the regular season. That will be enough.

Heat in 6.

Ostensibly on bench, Markieff Morris steps onto court and tugs Seth Curry’s shorts during play (video)

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Markieff Morris (28 points and nine rebounds) came up big in the Wizards’ overtime win over the Trail Blazers last night.

He didn’t even need to be in the game to help Washington stop Portland on the final possession of regulation.

CJ Fogler:

There should be no place for that. None. Games should be decided by the 10 players on the court. Anyone not in the game should do nothing to encroach on the space of players in the game. Stepping over the sideline is an egregious violation. Touching a player or his uniform is beyond outrageous.

The NBA has occasionally fined coaches (including former Wizards assistant Sidney Lowe) and players, but the league hasn’t gone far enough. This type of conduct, though usually not this flagrant, occurs far too often. It’s past time to crack down. Fines, suspensions, whatever it takes to ensure this stops.

After years of neglecting to deter these antics, the NBA shouldn’t put all the weight of the problem on Morris. Fine him what has been the standard amount, but make clear to everyone this was the last straw before more severe penalties.

Morris’ shorts tug might have decided the game. We’ll never know whether that would have been the difference between the Trail Blazers scoring on the possession or not. Probably not. Damian Lillard missed on a drive, but maybe he would kicked to Seth Curry if Curry weren’t flailing his arms, exasperated by Morris contact. Or maybe Otto Porter would have stuck just a little closer to Curry without “help” defense from Morris, leaving more room for Lillard.

But it’s only a matter of time until the NBA has a more controversial ending involving someone on the bench getting involved in the play.

Check out Maurice Harkless’ Tyrone Biggums of the “Chapelle’s Show” Halloween costume

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The Trail Blazers were celebrating Halloween a little early this year, wearing their costumes to the arena Monday night.

Damian Lillard went with Stone Cold.

But nobody topped Maurice Harkless’ Tyrone Biggums costume. Brilliant.

 

There were other creative players, too.

Portland has set the bar high this year.

Three Things to Know: Boston’s offense lacks any magic in loss to Orlando

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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.

1) Bad loss for Boston: Offense stumbles again and Celtics fall to Magic. I get it, we’re just four games into the NBA season and the Celtics are still adjusting to having Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back in the rotation. This early the defense isn’t expected to be at its switching peak yet. Everything is a work in progress and it’s far too early to even get nervous.

But the Celtics were manhandled down the stretch by the Raptors. Then Boston almost lost to an unimpressive Knicks team.

Now comes a home loss to Orlando. That is a bad loss. Boston is simply not playing well right now.

Following an unimpressive preseason, the Celtics are 2-2 to open the season after a 93-90 loss to the punchless Magic Monday. While Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin were able to get in the paint and kick out, and Nikola Vucevic had 24 and 12, it wasn’t the Magic offense torching the Celtics defense that was the biggest problem on the night. Once again, Boston’s offense looked out of sync, as evidenced by them shooting 7-of-20 in the first quarter or going 9-of-40 from three (22.5 percent). When the long Magic defenders stopped the Celtics’ initial actions, Boston players were not making passes that started good actions elsewhere, they just looked stagnant.

Meanwhile, the Magic had their young star, Jonathan Isaac, making plays.

The Celtics’ offensive chemistry is a work in progress — they will get there, this team will be elite, but it’s going to take a lot longer than expected. Everybody thought this would be more plug-and-play, that everything would come together quickly for the Celtics with their stars back. Things seemed to come more easily last season, it’s not that way this time around. This time, Brad Stevens and crew have a lot more work to do.

It’s just four games, the Celtics have the talent and plenty of time to get it all together. But this is not the start their fans envisioned.

2) Laker defense gets them in trouble, Spurs’ Patty Mills puts the nail in the coffin. Lakers remain winless. If you want highlights, this game had plenty. There was clutch LeBron forcing overtime.

Then, capping off a dramatic comeback where the Spurs scored the final seven points of the game in the final :55 seconds, Spurs veteran Patty Mills drained his game-winning attempt.

However, he did it so fast LeBron had one more shot to win it all, he got to his spot and…

The Spurs win, 143-142 in overtime.

Get past the highlights, and LeBron’s Lakers remain winless because of the same things that have plagued them through the first two games. The Lakers do not defend well at all (the Spurs scored 125.7 points per 100 possessions, and the Lakers are bottom six in the league in defense through three games). While the Lakers’ offense is great in transition, slow them down and they are very inconsistent (and searching for consistent shooting from three). Bottom line, if the Lakers get stops and can run they are impressive, but they don’t get enough of those, and then things are a roller coaster.

It’s just three games, but for a Laker team expecting to make the playoffs in a deep West, they need to start winning sooner rather than later.

3) Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris secure Wizards win a wild overtime game in Portland. Two of the best backcourts in the NBA — Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum for Portland, John Wall and Bradley Beal for Washington — faced off on Monday night, and the star was…

Markieff Morris?

Yes. Markieff Morris. He had 28 points and nine rebounds, including making key plays in a 125-124 overtime win for the Wizards. Damian Lillard was hitting clutch shots too, but with everything on the lin late Otto Porter rejected Lillard near the rim.

Rather than reading a description, just watch the highlights of the end of regulation and overtime, and enjoy.

Poor defense, Patty Mills game-winner keep LeBron James, Lakers winless

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LOS ANGELES — This loss stung. More than the first two. Because the win was in LeBron James‘ hands and…

The Lakers are 0-3 to start the season.

For much of the first 47 minutes Monday night, the Spurs out-executed the Lakers and exposed their porous defense. The Lakers ran enough, and got hot from three for a stretch, to keep themselves close, but then a LaMarcus Aldridge jumper had the Spurs up 128-120 with 1:10 left in regulation. Frustrated fans headed for the exits. The game looked over.

Then a JaVale McGee dunk and a Kyle Kuzma three (he had 37 points on the night) set up LeBron James forcing overtime in a classic LeBron fashion.

Overtime was the reverse of regulation — it was the young Lakers’ turn to make plays and dominate. A LeBron James driving and-1 had the Lakers up by six, 142-136, with just :55 seconds left. LeBron was on the doorstep of his first win as a Laker… then Bryn Forbes hit a driving layup, and after a Kuzma miss the Lakers gave up the one thing they couldn’t — a three. To Rudy Gay. Uncontested in any meaningful way. That made it a one-point game with 12 seconds left. LeBron was fouled instantly on the inbound pass but then missed two straight free throws, setting up Patty Mills for the heroics.

LeBron had one last chance to get his first win as a Laker… and nothing.

“I got to my spot, I got the shot I wanted, it just didn’t go down,” LeBron said.

For the third game in a row another team executed better than the Lakers when it mattered most, this time it was the Spurs, who pick up a 143-142 win. LeBron and the Lakers fall to 0-3 to start the season.

It was always going to be a process for these Lakers, but it’s going to take longer than fans and most pundits expected.

The same problems from the first two games remained for the Lakers — on defense they allowed 125.7 points per 100 possessions (it’s very early, but the Lakers are bottom six in defense so far). They struggled to slow LaMarcus Aldridge (37 points on 22 shots) and DeMar DeRozan (32 points), which happens to a lot of teams, but Laker defenders lost guys on back cuts and struggled with the Spurs ball movement. Los Angeles gives up too many easy buckets and fouls too much. Offensively the Lakers were impressive in transition and got their buckets in the paint (74 points), but shot 4-of-10 between the paint and the arc, and were 9-of-32 on above-the-break threes (L.A. hit 5-of-7 from the corners, a definite improvement).

“We’re going to continue to get better. I like the direction we’re going it,” LeBron said. “Obviously, we don’t have too many wins right now, but it’s such a long process. We had our chances…

“We want to defend, we know that’s going to be our staple. We know we’re going to defend. When we defend and rebound, we’re very good, we’re just trying to figure out how to defend without fouling.”

It was a game all about pace (which ties to the Laker defense). In the first quarter Spurs put up 40 points and shot 72.7 percent, and with that made the Lakers take the ball out of the basket time after time. Los Angeles couldn’t run and trailed by as many as 16 in the quarter. In the second quarter the Spurs shots didn’t fall, and the Lakers were off and running getting 34 points. For the game, the Lakers had 41 fast break points.

It just wasn’t enough.

Lakers’ coach Luke Walton earned himself a fine after the game with his frustration with the referees, something that has been a running theme with the Lakers for a couple of games now.

“It’s 70-something points in the paint to 50-something (74 to 50), again they outshoot us from the free throw line, 38 free throws (the Lakers had 26),” Walton ranted after the game. “Watch the play — watch the play where I got a technical, watch what happens to LeBron James’ arm. It’s the same thing that James Harden and Chris Paul shot 30 free throws on us the night before. Then LeBron pulls up on a screen and somebody’s trying to fight over it, same thing they shot free throws on. Same thing.

“We are scoring 70 points a night in the paint. We’re putting pressure on. Josh Hart, watch how plays the game, played 40 minutes tonight, all he does is attack the rim — zero free throws tonight. Zero. I know they’re young, but if we’re going to play a certain way then let’s not reward people for flopping 30 feet from the hole on plays that have nothing to do with that possession. They’re just flopping to see if they can get a foul call. And then not reward players who are physically going to the basket and getting hit. That’s not right.”

We’ll see if Walton gets his money’s worth with that rant when we see the calls Los Angeles gets in Phoenix on Wednesday.