NBA Playoffs: Can Heat rebound — literally — against Bulls?

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These are two very good defensive teams. They will contest virtually every shot, jump passing angles and not let players get to the spots they want on the floor.

In Game 1, the Bulls responded to that challenge by going to their strength in this series and crashing the offensive glass ferociously. The result was 19 offensive rebounds and a 1-0 series lead.

The Heat responded with isolation basketball and very little of the transition play that is their strength in this series. Those two things — and the rebounding — are what needs to change if the Heat are going back to Miami with an even series. (And while this is not must win, going ahead having to win four of five from Chicago is daunting.)

What about that rebounding? For one thing, the Heat have to rotate better, to help the helper on defense, and that second rotation has to box out. That didn’t happen in Game 1. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra may go with more size inside — maybe Zydrunas Ilgauskas, maybe more Jamal Magloire — but really it has to come from the core guys on the court. Specifically, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, to good rebounders for their position.

This is going to hurt somewhat with Miami’s stated goal of wanting to run more, but you can’t run without the rebound and the Heat were not getting them. It’s all about priorities.

LeBron and Wade are going to have to step up in the halfcourt, but not with isolation heroball as they did last game. The Bulls defense destroys isolation plays, even from the best isolation players. What the Heat did well against the Celtic — which runs the same Tom Thibodeau overload defense — was have Wade and James work well off the ball on the weakside, then had quick ball movement. The Bulls run the defense better, they are more aggressive. Luol Deng is a good defender and he is glued to James.

Miami needs to get into its sets earlier in the clock, then Wade and LeBron need to be more decisive and aggressive when coming off picks and driving. Their hesitancy (due to good pressure defense) cost the team looks. They have to attack.

The Bulls offense got fantastic outside shooting last game and that may not return. That comes and goes. But the Bulls had one second half turnover and if they can do that again it would be a huge advantage. Again, it’s about keeping the Heat out of transition situations. Chicago must control the tempo, turnovers and offensive boards are the key to that.

Chicago may get more out of Derrick Rose, but the key in every game this series will be somebody (or somebodies) stepping up and adding points. There has to be balance. The Heat will figure out how to slow Rose down, they have the athletes, but to do that will leave someone else open and the Bulls need to make them pay.

Game 2 is going to be closer than Game 1 in the end. The Heat seemed a little taken aback by the Bulls defense in the opener, but they will be more ready Thursday. And that should help this series start to live up to the hype.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.