NBA Playoffs: Heat outclass the Bulls, take series lead

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Game 1 of the Bulls-Heat series was the kind of game the Bulls wanted to play — a physical slugfest that saw Chicago dominate the Heat by destroying them on the boards and keeping LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from being able to do too much damage. Game 2 was the kind of game that could have gone either way — neither team was able to get its offense going at all, but the Heat were able to keep the Bulls from killing them on the glass and took the game over in the final five minutes.

Game 3 was the kind of game the Heat wanted. The Heat got out to an early lead, ran their offense cleanly and shot over 50%, and forced Chicago’s offense to try and match their output. And with Derrick Rose contained yet again (he finished with 20 points on 19 shots and five assists), the Bulls had no hope of keeping up with the Heat.

The Heat’s half-court offense hummed on Sunday night, and that was mainly thanks to the play of Chris Bosh. LeBron James finished with 22 points, but spent most of the game facilitating and defending, and Dwyane Wade had some trouble getting his offense going after a few unsuccessful layup attempts early. Fortunately for the Heat, Bosh had his best game since becoming a member of Miami’s “Big Three,” and likely the best game of his career.

The Heat went to Bosh in pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll, and high-post situations all game long, and everything he did seemed to work. When the defense gave him space, he drained a mid-range jumper. When they tried to close out on him, he used his up-fake to clear space and attack the basket off the dribble. When they defended him perfectly, he hit impossible fadeaways. When he rolled to the basket, his teammates found him and he converted. With Bosh as the Heat’s offensive fulcrum, the Bulls were never able to get enough stops to really threaten the Heat, and Miami scored 25 or more points in each of the last three quarters.

On the other end of the court, the Heat’s defense looked as impressive as their offense. Joel Anthony, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade all appeared to be in multiple places at once, and came from out of nowhere to come up with steals, blocks, shot contests, and drawn charges time and time again while maintaining a wall between Derrick Rose and the basket. The Bulls had some success when they were able to get out in transition or utilize Joakim Noah’s superb passing skills in half-court situation, but the Heat seemed a step ahead of the Bulls’ offense for the vast majority of the night.

Some of Chicago’s players, notably Keith Bogans, tried to bump the Heat players around and turn the game into the kind of physical battle they want to play against the Heat, but the Heat had none of it — it’s amazing how easy it is to keep your composure in the NBA when most of the shots you take go in the basket.

The Bulls now find themselves in the exact same position as the Heat were a week ago: they don’t have home-court advantage, they’re behind one game, and they’re coming off of a demoralizing and clear defeat. If they can get themselves together the way the Heat did after Game 1 and win Game 4, they get home-court advantage right back and put themselves in a very good position in this series, and this is a Bulls team that almost never went on any kind of a losing streak this season. However, if the Heat can make Game 4 look anything like Game 3 did, the Bulls will find themselves in major trouble.

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Bucks bring in Christian Wood for training camp, give him chance to make roster

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For three seasons now, Christian Wood has bounced between the NBA and G-League (he played for the Sixers, who cut him to bring in Elton Brand, and Charlotte). He has been trying to improve and show he has NBA skills — a 6’11” forward who has a face-up game, an improving outside shot, and his defense seems to be coming together. He’s still just 22 years old.

The best he looked was playing for the Bucks at Summer League in Las Vegas this year, where he averaged 20.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game, shot 55.4 percent, and made the All Summer League First Team.

That got him a training camp invite to Milwaukee this fall.

The Bucks have a final roster spot open, and they have now signed Woods and Shabazz Muhammad for camp, giving them a chance to compete for it and impress new coach Mike Budenholzer. (Tyler Zeller also is on a non-guaranteed and could get that spot.)

Budenholzer likes bigs who can shoot and space the floor, and Woods shot 30.4 percent from three in Las Vegas — not earth shattering, but he’s a more willing shooter from the outside than Muhammad. It’s going to be an interesting battle to watch in Bucks training camp. In Las Vegas, Woods looked like an NBA player, but Vegas can be a desert mirage, he needs to carry that play over to training camp to get a roster spot.

Kyle Kuzma on LeBron James’ Lakers: “a lot of people are underestimating us”

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Just how good are the LeBron James led Los Angles Lakers?

Las Vegas’ Westgate Sports Book put their under/over win total at 48.5. I’ve seen predictions that range from the three seed to talk of them missing the playoffs. Nobody really knows because, while LeBron’s greatness isn’t in question, there are plenty of questions about the fit around him: Lance Stephenson? Can Lonzo Ball play well off the ball more considering his shot? Where does Rajon Rondo fit in the PG rotation? What kind of step forward will Brandon Ingram take? Michael Beasley? Is JaVale McGee ready for a larger role? Will the Lakers go small at times with LeBron at the five? (I think that could be their best lineup, if used right.)

Kyle Kuzma thinks you’re selling the Lakers’ short.

Back in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, this week for a YMCA promotion, Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN he has worked out with LeBron and they like this roster.

“We are both definitely excited about the roster and the pieces that we have,” Kuzma told ESPN on Tuesday, after visiting with 20 kids from the Safe Places program at his hometown Flint YMCA as part of the “My Y Story” content series. “And we think that a lot of people are underestimating us. It is definitely going to be fun playing with all these new guys.”

“A lot of people say we got a lot of different people, a lot of new people,” added Kuzma, who also is holding a three-day camp for children in his hometown. “But change can be a good thing. It is not necessarily always a bad thing. There’s a lot of teams in the NBA that need to work on their chemistry; we are just one of them…

“I don’t know why people kind of just rule us out because we are young,” said Kuzma, who was a first-team All-Rookie performer after averaging 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds last season. “We are hungry. We are competitive. Anybody that watched us play last year, we were in a lot of games.”

The big change the Lakers made this season is good — LeBron makes the Lakers a threat. Kuzma is right on that front.

However, the question has never been “will the Lakers be good?” They have LeBron and some quality talent around him, of course they will be. The questions are more along the lines of “how fast can they come together?” and “where do they slot in the West, where there are a lot of good teams?” Assuming Golden State and Houston finish as the top two seeds in some order, where do the Lakers rank against Oklahoma City, Utah, Portland, New Orleans, Minnesota, Denver, and San Antonio? And that’s without getting into teams such as Memphis or the Los Angeles Clippers who have potential if they can stay healthy. That’s 12 teams I just mentioned battling for eight playoffs slots, 12 teams capable of winning at least 45 games if not more. The margin for error in the West is minuscule.

But are we underestimating the Lakers? Depends on what the standard is. These Lakers are not contenders yet. But do you really think a LeBron James team is going to miss the playoffs?

Change of plans, NBA clears Jordan Clarkson to play in Asian Games

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The Philippines national basketball team just got a lot better.

Jordan Clarkson wanted to play for the Philippines in the upcoming Asian Games (his mother is a native of that country, so he is allowed), but the NBA did not clear him to do so saying this tournament was not part of the agreement between FIBA and the NBA that allows the league’s players to take part in major international events (the Olympics, the basketball World Cup, etc.).

However, there has been a change of heart and Clarkson has been granted a special waiver.

The Cavaliers’ guard will miss his country’s first game against Kazakhstan today but will play in the rest of the tournament. As noted in the release, two Chinese players with NBA ties — Houston’s Zhou Qi and Dallas’ Ding Yanhuyang — also were cleared for this tournament.

There is a “club vs. country” tug of war in soccer and other international sports, including basketball. While players want to represent their countries — for both patriotic reasons and the fact the major international events such as the Olympics can help boost a players’ brand — teams see injury risk, coaches not necessarily looking out for the long-term health of the player, and something that can pull them out of off-season training and work on parts of their game. This time, the countries won, but don’t bet on the NBA expanding its list of FIBA events it will clear its players for.

Geeking out on NBA prospects: R.J. Barrett almost dunks from free throw line, Zion Williamson does

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Duke is stacked this coming season. STACKED. They should have three lottery picks in next year’s draft. (Does that mean they are the team to beat in the NCAA? That’s not the way basketball works. But that’s another discussion.)

Duke is in Toronto for a series of preseason exhibition games, and at the end of the workout likely No. 1 pick next June, R.J. Barrett tried to show off by almost dunking from the free throw line.

Then freak of nature Zion Williamson showed him how it’s done.

That’s worth more looks.

Damn Zion is a freak of nature. Can we just put him in the next dunk contest now?