NBA Playoffs: Bulls bring energy but shooting betrays them

10 Comments

Derrick Rose was true to his word, he attacked the rim with a recklessness and aggressiveness not seen in this series.

The Bulls played defense with energy and desperation not seen this series.

And it was not enough — in the end they simply did not shoot the ball well enough from the outside to space the floor and create room for penetration, which led to more jumpshots they missed.

As a team, the Bulls shot 27.1 percent from beyond 10 feet in Game 4, and 25 percent from three. (stats via Hoopdata)

On the other side of the floor, Mike Miller came off the bench — and for Heat fans back from the dead — to knock down outside shots that helped key the Heat’s 101-93 victory.

The Bulls in the first quarter got the game to go their way. They were physical on defense and slowed the Heat attack, they created turnovers and turned those into some fast break points. But through it all their outside shots were still not falling, and as the game wears on the guys got tired the Bulls more and more seemed to settle for the jump shot. Yet those were not falling as the Bulls were 6-of-24 from three.

Neither the Heat nor the Bulls run a lot of post up plays, both get their points in the paint primarily through penetration. This has been a fantastic defensive series — both teams have walled off the paint and been very physical with whomever drives the ball. Even with some of the best penetrators in the game — Rose, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade — attacking the rim has been a chore.

The Heat have put up a wall of players in front of Rose when he wants to drive. With the Bulls shooting 6-for-24 from three, the Heat do not have to come out of the paint to respect that shot. They can create those walls and pack the paint. In the first half Rose attacked that anyway and had the monster dunk over Joel Anthony. He got some easy buckets (for him anyway) in transition. But in the second half, as he got tired, he started to settle more for jump shots. His went 1-of-9 from three. Kyle Korver is the designated shooter but he was 0-for-3 from three. Nobody on the Bulls was able to knock down shots.

Mike Miller changed that dynamic for the Heat. He went 2-of-5 from three and 5-of-8 overall, finishing with a dozen points. The Bulls had to respect his outside shot and defend it. There was a reason he was a game high +36 on the night.

That drew the Bulls defense out and gave the Heat more room inside for penetration and offensive rebounds. Miami had just two fewer offensive rebounds than Chicago (10-8) and that is a battle the Bulls need to win big.

“Mike gave us a real boost,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game in an interview broadcast on NBA TV. “Real aggressive looking for his opportunities, and they do such a tremendous job of protecting the paint and he was able to break free a couple of times. We love it. We love him even when he’s taking shots he doesn’t think he should.”

At the end of the game, with no other shooters a threat, the Bulls really had no choice but to flatten out and have Rose attack in isolation against LeBron. If Rose had not been so exhausted from the long minutes in a physical game he might have tried to get to the rim rather than settle for a jumper over a taller LeBron, but we will never know. What we do know is that shot missed.

LeBron and the Heat have taken their share of jumpers in this series because of the Bulls defense. But they hit 38.5 percent in this game, they knocked their jumpers down. Or at least enough to be up 3-1 in the series and in total command.

And the Bulls are not going to win one more game, let alone three, without knocking down some outside shots. It’s the only way.

Spurs disbanding all-female dance team in favor of co-ed hype team

Getty Images
1 Comment

Is this the wave of the future?

Since then newly-minted owner Jerry Buss started the Laker Girls’ in 1979, all-female dance teams have become standard around the NBA. However, with how things are now viewed through the prism of the #metoo movement, and reports on how NFL cheerleaders were treated in places such as Washington and Miami, a lot of professional sports teams are re-thinking the concept of female dance teams.

The Spurs are apparently doing away with theirs, to be replaced by a 35-person co-ed “hype team.”

The Spurs have not said officially that this is the end of the Silver Dancers. “Lack of interest” is an odd reason to give — is there suddenly less interest now than there was five years ago? A number of teams have both female dance teams and co-ed “spirit” or “hype” teams.

Far more likely, this is about perception in what is a conservative state and marketplace.

The question is will this become a trend, both around the NBA and professional sports. As the teams try to evolve and make more dynamic their in-arena experiences, are the dance teams going to fade from view?

Just something to keep and eye on going forward.

Just a reminder: Spurs hope to repair relationship with Kawhi Leonard, offer-him $219 million

Associated Press
Leave a comment

It’s everyone’s favorite parlor game around the NBA: Where will Kawhi Leonard play next season? Philadelphia? Los Angeles? Somewhere else? Fans of 29 teams are posting their trade scenarios online, while GMs of 29 teams privately have tried to come up with offers that could tempt San Antonio.

The most likely answer: San Antonio.

While the relationship between Leonard and the Spurs is frayed — and with the people close to Leonard and in his ear seemingly trying to push him out the door — the Spurs would rather keep one of the five best players in the NBA (when healthy) in-house. From Tom Osbourne of the San Antonio Express-News.

Still, the Spurs hope to meet with Leonard and his representatives soon in a bid to mend fences and pave the way for Leonard to come to terms on a five-year $219 million supermax contract that he will be eligible to receive starting July 1. If attempts to patch up the relationship fail, the Spurs will be forced to explore trading a player coach Gregg Popovich once labeled “the future face of the franchise.”

The timing of that meeting has been slowed in part because of the death of Popovich’s wife and everyone involved understandably giving him all the space wants. It will happen.

Can the relationship be salvaged? Maybe, $219 million can mend a lot of fences. There are things the Spurs can and would be willing to do to promote Leonard more (although that all starts with him getting out of his comfort zone and building his brand, starting with speaking more in public). Also, Gregg Popovich was able to sooth LaMarcus Aldridge‘s ego when the big man demanded a trade, and not only did the player stay he had an All-NBA level season. Popovich and Leonard still have a strong relationship.

Is that enough? Time will tell, but people around the league think at best it’s a coin flip. Things are not good right now. However, the Spurs will get the first crack at fixing this before they are forced to consider a trade.

Julius Randle’s camp not convinced he’s a Laker priority

Getty Images
4 Comments

Last November, Julius Randle walked into Staples Center wearing a sweatshirt that said: “pay me.”

Yet he and the Lakers could not come to terms on a rookie contract extension — the Lakers could have had him starting at $12.4 million a year, but wanted to keep their cap space and options open. Now, it’s going to cost a lot more to keep the restricted free agent who averaged 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting with eight rebounds a game. There are rumors that the previous contract negotiations left a bad taste in Randle’s mouth and he wants out.

Lakers’ fans want Randle back. The Lakers still have rights to match any offer and the front office has said Randle is a priority. Randle’s camp is not so sure about that last part, they haven’t seen the evidence, reports Tania Ganguli at The Los Angeles Times.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told The Times on Friday that the Lakers’ front office is constantly in touch with Julius Randle’s representatives, and there has been “a mutual exchange of interest and hoping that we can work something out for both sides.”

Randle’s camp is unsure of how mutual the interest has been.

“We still have no indication of where Julius stands among the Lakers’ priorities, or if he is a priority at all,” Randle’s agent Aaron Mintz said Saturday in response to Pelinka’s comments. “We are looking forward to the marketplace in July, when we will get a clear picture of Julius’ future.”

That is negotiation posturing by Mintz, no doubt. He might as well have said, “show me the money.”

Don’t expect other teams to wait around on Randle offers while the Lakers figure out their free agent possibilities — Paul George, LeBron James (probably not him) — come July 1. Other teams are interested (Dallas among them) and are going to try to move quickly to force the Lakers’ hand.

Once those other offers are on the table, we’ll see where the Lakers’ priorities really are.

Rumor: Dallas to target big men — Cousins, Jordan, Randle — in free agency

Getty Images
3 Comments

The Dallas Mavericks have been hunting for a center ever since they thought they had DeAndre Jordan, right before the Clippers locked him in a house and forced him to change his mind (that’s not really how it went down, but it makes a better story than the truth). It’s why Dallas has been linked to Mohamed Bamba in the draft — a big, defensive-minded, rim runner who could develop into a great pick-and-roll partner with Dennis Smith Jr.

However, the Mavericks may not want to wait for Bamba — or any other young big — to develop.

Expect the Mavericks to go after one of the name big men on the market in free agency this summer, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer from the NBA Combine in Chicago.

Ever since word spread in league circles in March that Dirk Nowitzki would return to the Mavericks for his 21st season, there have also been rumblings that the Dallas front office will look to make additions this summer that can put the team back on a winning track. The Mavericks can create space to sign a max free agent, and multiple league sources expect them to pursue a trio of big men: DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and restricted free agent Julius Randle.

Jordan has not yet officially opted out of the $24.1 million he is owed next season by the Los Angeles Clippers (although most observers expect him to). It is possible Dallas and other teams are not going to offer that much per season for Jordan, but if he can get three years starting at closer to $20 million per that’s a lot more guaranteed money. Also, does he want out of Los Angeles now that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are gone and will he take a little less per year to get to a new team?

We know Dallas likes him and Jordan has a relationship with Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle from the last go around.

How much money and how many years would Dallas be willing to risk on Cousins coming off a torn Achilles? More than the Pelicans (who don’t have the money to replace Cousins with anywhere near that level player if he bolts)?

Randle showed a lot of promise as a bully inside who can run some pick-and-roll with Smith, but do the Mavericks want to try to outbid the Lakers (which leads to the question of what other free agents Los Angeles might get and how much they are willing to pay to keep Randle)?

We know this, Mark Cuban does not sit quietly on the sidelines of free agency. Expect the Mavericks to be aggressive players this summer.