When’s the $75 Million Boozer going to show up?

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So the Bulls are a pretty good team, right? Best record in the league, MVP Derrick Rose, top seed in the East, Conference Finals team with homecourt advantage (until Wednesday, at least). That’s pretty good. Except there’s just one problem that if the Bulls can solve, will mean their road to a championship and a restart of the 90’s heydays will be much easier.

Boozer.

Carlos Boozer signed with the Bulls for $75 million dollars over five years. He was the big free agent acquisition by Chicago in the free agent summer of a lifetime. Yes, the Bulls bought into a team-wide approach, adding role players like Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and Keith Bogans (Keith Bogans?!), but Boozer was the crown jewel. When the Bulls were getting railroaded out of the playoffs, everyone said they needed a No.2 option. Boozer was meant to be that option.

The result? Boozer had a rough start, tripping over a bag, yes, a bag, and injuring himself for the first few months of the season. When he returned, he put in his third lowest season PER of his career, and his lowest point total in five years, save for the injury-ridden 2009 season. Boozer wasn’t looked at as a liability, after all, the Bulls won all those games and averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds. But he’s simply not the force that the Bulls need, and if he’s ever going to show up, now would be a great time as the Eastern Conference Finals move to Miami.

The playoffs started off badly for Boozer as Tyler Hansbrough showed the world what Jazz fans have known a long time: Boozer’s a defensive liability. Hansbrough still had opportunities as the Pacers series continued, but couldn’t convert, mostly due to inexperience. Then against the Hawks, we saw the first signs that Tom Thibodeau may trust Taj Gibson more in key defensive situations than Boozer. The Conference Finals have expressed the same. In fact, Gibson accounted for the vast majority of the Bulls’ offense in their fourth quarter of Game 2. Granted, the Bulls only scored 10 points in that quarter, but the point stands.

The Bulls needed offense in Game 2 and Boozer scored seven points on 3-10 shooting. He secured eight rebounds, four offensive, but it makes the second game Chris Bosh has bested Boozer, and Bosh had a terrible Game 2. The Bulls need Boozer. With Rose struggling as the Heat’s defense keys more and more on him, the Bulls have to look elsewhere. Their offense is at best rudimentary and at worst most-often infantile. “Give the ball to Boozer in the post and let him do his thing” is one of the better options the Bulls have.

The interesting thing is Tom Thibodeau doesn’t see Boozer, who turns 30 later this year, as a “slow it and post it” option. Instead, Thibodeau thinks Boozer needs the ball more in transition.

“It’s the same thing, just like with Derrick [Rose],” Thibodeau said. “I think the more we can run the floor and get out into transition before their defense gets set, it makes our offense much more efficient. I think it also plays to what our strengths are … We gotta try to get easy baskets. If the defense is set, now you gotta move the defense. Now the clock starts working against you. If you’re settling for long jumpers at the end of the shot clock, you’re not going to be very successful against this team.”

Boozer echoed his coach’s preference to play up-tempo basketball.

“Well we gotta run,” Boozer said. “The thing about getting easy baskets is you gotta make the other team miss, so you can get out in transition. We got one of the fastest guys in the world on our team (Rose). But to get the ball to him in transition where we can follow him and chase him, we gotta get stops. Once we get stops we’ll get the ball in his hands so we can run.”

via Boozer, pace keys for Bulls’ offense – Chicago Bulls Blog – ESPN Chicago.

Boozer has the opportunity to be the difference in a title or exit for the Bulls. But he has to somehow do the things he was paid to do. Whether he actually has that ability or not remains to be seen. The Bulls’ future lies with Boozer. If the Bulls want to reclaim homecourt advantage, they’ve got to get Boozer going.

And he’s got to do more than just yell.

Watch Damian Lillard put up 51 on shorthanded 76ers

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Everything is back to normal for Damian Lillard.

The All-Star point guard scored 51 points after a frustrating finish a night earlier, and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Philadelphia 76ers 124-121 on Sunday.

On Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Lillard missed a pair of free throws with 18.6 seconds to go and a 3-pointer with 9.5 seconds left in a 122-117 loss. Clippers players Paul George and Patrick Beverley were seen laughing at Lillard’s misfortune.

Lillard got the last laugh Sunday by scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter.

“It wasn’t really so much my performance yesterday and I wanted to perform a certain way today,” he said. “It was like, we let one slip that we should have had yesterday, and I’m a big part of why it got away from us. So tonight, I was like ‘That’s not going to happen.’”

Portland bounced back and pulled within a half-game of Memphis for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers increased their chances of qualifying for the play-in series, which will start Saturday.

The 76ers lost much more than the game. All-Star center Joel Embiid left in the first quarter with what the team called a left ankle injury, and he did not return. He contested a shot, then backed up and stepped awkwardly into the stanchion. He had been averaging 30 points per game since the restart.

76ers coach Brett Brown wouldn’t say whether Embiid would miss time.

“I’m going to learn more physically,” Brown said. “I don’t know enough to comment on it.”

It was more bad injury news for the 76ers. All-Star point guard Ben Simmons is out indefinitely with an injured left knee.

Josh Richardson scored a season-high 34 points and Alec Burks added 20 for Philadelphia. The 76ers would have moved into a tie with the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with a win.

Without their stars, the 76ers fell behind by 17 in the second quarter and trailed 67-58 at halftime.

The game tightened up late. Philadelphia’s Al Horford hit a 3-pointer to trim Portland’s lead to 122-121. Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic made two free throws with 10.2 seconds remaining to put his team up three. Richardson missed a 3-pointer for Philadelphia, and the 76ers couldn’t get another shot off after a scramble for the rebound.

“I thought our guys fought,” Brown said. “I really thought the spirit of the group was fantastic. We called upon many different players that I think played with a spirit and a passion that you’re proud of.”

Zion Williamson, New Orleans eliminated from playoff chase; Kings, too

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There was no team hyped like the New Orleans Pelicans heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando. They had Zion Williamson healthy (or so they thought), and they had been playing the best of any of the teams in the playoff chase just before the coronavirus shut the league (and nation) down. A basketball-starved nation dreamed of a LeBron James vs. Zion showdown in the first round.

The reality of the bubble was not so kind to those dreams or New Orleans.

The Pelicans lost to the Spurs on Sunday, 122-113, despite 25 points from Williamson. Combined with the Trail Blazers beating the 76ers 124-121, the Pelicans became mathematically eliminated from reaching the nine seed and getting into a play-in series in the West.

The Pelicans are out of the playoffs. New Orleans will go through the motions of two more games in the bubble, but don’t be surprised if key players rest. The Pelicans went 2-4 in the bubble with offensive struggles holding the team back.

The Sacramento Kings also have been eliminated, extending the franchise’s playoff drought to 14 years. The last time the Kings were in the playoffs was 2006.

The Memphis Grizzlies sit as the eighth seed in the West, with Portland the ninth seed and just half-a-game back. San Antonio (one game back of Memphis) and Phoenix (1.5 games back) are both alive in the playoff chase still.

New Orleans getting eliminated ends J.J. Redick‘s playoff streak at 13 seasons, the longest of any active player and tied for seventh-longest all-time (the record is a tie at 19 between Karl Malone and John Stockton, who did it together). Getting eliminated is what leads to a 1000-mile stare meme.

 

 

 

 

Joel Embiid will not return to 76ers game due to left ankle injury

Joel Embiid injury
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Philadelphia’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad bubble continues.

Joel Embiid went back to the locker room during the first quarter of the 76ers game against the Trail Blazers and will not return to the court due to a left ankle injury, the team announced, via Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

There are no other details yet on Embiid’s condition. He has been far-and-away the best player on a Philadelphia team that has struggled through the NBA’s restart in Orlando.

The 76ers have already lost Ben Simmons, likely for the rest of this season, due to knee surgery.

Despite the injuries and rough play, Philly was 3-1 entering Sunday. However, the one loss was to red-hot T.J. Warren and Indiana, which essentially locked the 76ers into the six seed (and a likely first-round meeting with Boston).

Embiid is averaging 30 points a game in Orlando and put up a ridiculous 41 points, 21 rebounds line against Indiana.

If Embiid misses much time, the Sixers’ chances against any team near the top of the East are slim. At best.

Play-in series guaranteed in West after Toronto beats Memphis

NBA play-in
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It’s now official: There will be a play-in series to determine the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Memphis’ 108-99 loss to Toronto on Sunday means that it’s no longer possible for more than a four-game difference in the standings between the eighth- and ninth-place finishers in the West when the seeding game schedule ends later this week.

By the rules the NBA set for this season’s restart, there had to be more than a four-game cushion for the No. 8 team to get the final playoff spot outright. The league decided to add the play-in series option in an abundance of fairness, since about 14% of the regular season schedule was eliminated because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Memphis remains alone in eighth place, even after Sunday’s loss. Portland is one game behind and is in the nine seed (with a Philadelphia Sunday night). San Antonio (who beat New Orleans Sunday) and red-hot Phoenix are 1.5 games back of the Grizzlies. New Orleans is now two games back and with a difficult road to the postseason.

No team has clinched a spot in the play-in series; the Grizzlies could have assured themselves of no worse than that had they beaten the Raptors on Sunday.

Game 1 of the play-in series will be Saturday, with Game 2 — if necessary — the following day, Aug. 16. To advance and face the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, the eighth-place team will have to win one of the two games and the ninth-place finisher would have to go 2-0.

ABC will air Game 1 of the play-in series on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EDT. Game 2, if necessary, would be Aug. 16 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN.

There will be no play-in series in the Eastern Conference; Brooklyn and Orlando have secured what were the last two available spots on that bracket, with Washington — the only other team that came to Disney with a chance of qualifying in the East — already eliminated.

The playoffs begin Monday, Aug. 17.

“Obviously, that’s what everybody’s goal is,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said Sunday.

The matchup for the play-in will be known no later than Thursday. There are four seeding games on Friday, the last day of the regular season, though none of them will have any bearing on the West matchup.