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.

NBA’s minor league to offer $125,000 salaries to not-yet-draft-eligible 18-year-olds

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The NBA will lower its age limit to 18, effectively ending the one-and-done era.

Eventually.

In the meantime, the best option for most top players leaving high school is college basketball. But while the NBA takes its time changing a rule (that it never should have implemented in the first place), the NBA’s minor league will offer an alternative route.

G League release:

The NBA G League today announced a Select Contract as part of a comprehensive professional path that will be available, beginning with the 2019-20 season, to elite prospects who are eligible to play in the NBA G League but not yet eligible for the NBA.  The contracts, which will include robust programmatic opportunities for development, are for elite players who are at least 18 years old and will pay $125,000 for the five-month season.

NBA G League Select Contracts are designed for year-round professional growth and will include opportunities for basketball development, life skills mentorship and academic scholarship.  These offerings are slated to include basketball workouts during the summer months through existing NBA infrastructure like NBA Summer League and NBA Academies, year-round education programs designed to increase players’ ability to personally and professionally manage their careers, and a scholarship program for athletes who want to pursue higher education after their playing days.  Additionally, the NBA G League will further enhance player experience through existing partner relationships and NBA player development programming.

The $125,000 salary is nice and a sizeable jump from the standard minor-league salary, which these players were already eligible to receive. Select Contract players can also sign endorsements and receive loans from agents while remaining eligible to play, unlike in the NCAA.

But it’s not as if college basketball players aren’t compensated. Though their compensation is limited by the NCAA cartel, players still get tuition, room and board and cost-of-living expenses. And of course many get under-the-table money, too. The value of that compensation – particularly the tuition – varies by person.

Access to NBA infrastructure could swing some players, but that also comes with risk. Older professionals could expose younger, even more talented, players. Experience and physical advancement matter.

So does the stage. Top college-basketball players are nationally recognized stars who appear regular on television and are revered on campus. Minor-league players are relatively anonymous and play in mid-sized cities away from much fanfare.

There’s still plenty to sort out, and the details could affect how many players enter this new program out of high school. But it’s nice they have another option.

It’d be far better if they could just declare for the NBA draft if they feel they’re ready.

Anthony Davis challenging Michael Jordan as best opening-game player on record

AP Photo/Michael Wyke
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Anthony Davis called himself the NBA’s best player.

He sure backed it up last night.

Davis posted a 32-16-8-3-3 to lead the Pelicans to a 19-point win over the Rockets, considered by many to be the NBA’s second-best team. The performance immediately vaults Davis to the forefront of any MVP discussions.

But for him, it was just par for the course. Davis has repeatedly dazzled in season openers. When 18-6-2-3 qualifies as the dud, you know Davis is doing something right.

Davis’ box scores in New Orleans’ first game each season:

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That makes Davis’ average season-opener game score 24.1, one of the best ever. Only Michael Jordan has a higher mark on record (since 1983, as far back as Basketball-Reference records go; minimum: three games).

Here are the leaders:

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Obviously, Davis cares more about how he finishes than starts. The Pelicans have made the playoffs only twice with him, getting swept in the first round in 2015 and falling in the second round last season.

But it should be clear by now: Davis comes to play as soon as the season tips.

PBT Extra: Boston can be team to dethrone Golden State Warriors

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I’ve heard it from friends. I’ve seen it on NBA Twitter. I’ve debated it with sports talk radio hosts.

“This NBA season is already decided, nobody has a chance against the Warriors.”

Not true.

Boston has a shot, as I get into in this PBT Extra.

Absolutely the Warriors are the odds-on favorites to win it all, if healthy they should three-peat. They were my pick. But I believe Boston has a legitimate shot to dethrone the Warriors — they have the wing athletes, the switchability on defense, the scoring, the versatility. A Boston/Golden State Finals is going six or seven games… if we get there. It’s just day two of a long season.

But I believe in Boston.