Chicago 88, L.A. Lakers 87: Bulls erase a six-point deficit in the final minute to steal it

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The Lakers surprised many with their play for most of Christmas Day, hanging with the Bulls without suspended center Andrew Bynum and integrating a lot of new pieces into a new head coach’s system.

L.A. erased a seven-point halftime deficit quickly, built its lead to as many as 11 late in the fourth quarter, and led by six with under a minute to play. But turnovers and poor free throw shooting down the stretch, along with some clutch play from the reigning MVP Derrick Rose, turned a winnable game into a one-point loss by the time the final buzzer had sounded. Here’s how it transpired.

First Quarter – CHI 22, LAL 20

The new-look Lakers, missing Andrew Bynum due to suspension and with Lamar Odom gone to Dallas, started Josh McRoberts and Devin Ebanks alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Derek Fisher. The Bulls also had a new addition to their starting lineup in the form of Rip Hamilton, who got the privilege of checking Bryant. Hamilton didn’t even last the game’s first three minutes, however, and was sent to the bench after picking up two quick personal fouls, both of which came with him guarding Kobe.

Speaking of Bryant, plenty of attention will be paid to how he performs while playing with a torn wrist ligament on his shooting hand. He did have two turnovers early trying to dribble through traffic in the paint, but his first jumper from 20 feet out looked smooth.

Gasol got off to a strong start for L.A., and led all scorers in the period with eight points on 4-of-7 shooting. He seemed comfortable scoring against Chicago’s defenders, and will need to continue if the Lakers are to have a shot today.

Rip hamilton picked up two quick fouls trying to check Kobe, and was sent to the bench after less than three minutes of game time. Derrick Rose did absolutely nothing, going scoreless with just one field goal attempt and one assist in just over nine minutes of action.

Second Quarter – CHI 56, LAL 49

After the secondary players did the heavy lifting in the first quarter, the stars got involved in the second.

Kobe Bryant had eight points in the period, including a stretch where he scored on three straight Lakers possessions. Luol Deng made sure he wouldn’t do the same on the fourth, crowding Bryant near the sideline and forcing him into committing his fifth turnover of the game. Bryant has 14 points at the break.

Derrick Rose made a huge impact in the period, after being essentially nonexistent in the first. He scored 10 in the quarter, two of which came in highlight-reel fashion after using a behind-the-back dribble to escape Metta World Peace on the perimeter and then banking home a floater in the paint.

The teams played close throughout the half, but it ended disastrously for the Lakers. Chicago ended the period with six straight points from Deng, on a three-pointer followed by a layup and-1 at the rim which has the Bulls sitting with their biggest lead of the game at the half.

Chicago is getting balanced scoring with 10 each from Rose, Deng, and Boozer, and is converting its attempts at a high percentage. The Lakers will need to do a better job of challenging shots and limiting turnovers in the second half (L.A. has 10 for the game) if they want to close things up.

Third Quarter — LAL 69, CHI 68

The Lakers opened the period on a 10-3 run to tie it at 59, and the Bulls cooled off considerably from the field, shooting 21.7 percent while managing to score just 12 third-quarter points. Deng went 1-of-6 in the period, while Noah was 0-for-4. The one-point lead after three came courtesy of a wide open, two-handed jam from Josh McRoberts off of a pass from Steve Blake.

Fourth Quarter — CHI 88, LAL 87

It really shouldn’t have come to this for the Lakers. L.A. led by 11 points with 3:44 to play, and after the Bulls cut it to five two possessions later, Bryant found Blake in the corner for a three-pointer that pushed the lead back to eight with 2:33 to go. That should have done it, but credit the Bulls for attacking defensively to force turnovers, and going to the basket and creating contact to get to the line to get easy points.

And for making free throws.

Deng made five straight free throws down the stretch, while Gasol and McRoberts each missed a pair. Had they converted, the game might not have been lost. The same can be said of Kobe’s last couple of touches.

After Bryant hit a spinning, fadeaway jumper from the baseline that pushed the Laker lead back to six with under a minute to play — a shot that felt like classic Kobe, and one that again, should have helped put this game away — he found himself with the ball in his hands and his team up a point, with 20 seconds to play.

The shot clock was off. The Bulls would need to foul or get a steal to regain possession, and Bryant helped them achieve the latter. He was trapped by two Bulls up top, and decided to try a jump pass to Gasol, who didn’t have his defender sealed and was unable to get to the errant pass. Deng got the steal, the Bulls put the ball in Rose’s hands, and he went to his right and converted a floater in the lane that turned out to be the game-winning shot.

Bryant had one final chance, and the Lakers ran an iso for him to try to win the game, But he drove right to the baseline, and the Bulls rotated perfectly defensively, and had three defenders all skying to prevent Bryant’s heroics. Deng got a piece of the shot and the game was over.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First round dates, times, matchups

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We’ve all had our fill of the seeding games appetizer, it’s time to dig into the main course: The playoffs. On Thursday, the NBA released the first-round playoffs schedule for 2020.

Those seeding games saw unexpected stars — Indiana’s T.J. Warren looking like an elite scorer — and teams we didn’t expect exploding on the scene, such as the 8-0 Suns. The playoffs promise even more of that — and a few upsets.

Here are a few more notes on the NBA’s first-round playoff schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing with the Summer League/AAU style format with four games a day spread out over the course of the day.
• Games are played every other day in all eight series.
• It will not be known who which team the West’s top seed (the Lakers) will face in the first round until the play-in games on Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday.
• The first Western Conference Play-In game is Saturday, Aug. 15 at 2:30 ET (ABC). If the eighth-seeded team wins the series is over and that team moves on to the Lakers; if the eighth seed team loses a second game will be played on Sunday at 4:30 ET (ESPN).
• The Heat and Pacers played last Monday, meet again on Friday, then next Tuesday start a best-of-7 series. Miami won that first game in impressive fashion.
Chris Paul, now wearing a Thunder uniform, will take on his former team, the Houston Rockets.
• The NBA has released an NBA Finals schedule to teams.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020, first round, by date (all times are Eastern):

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Play-in winner

Game 1: Aug. 18, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Aug. 20, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3: Aug. 22, 8:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 4: Aug. 24, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Aug. 26, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 28, TBD
Game 7: Aug. 30, TBD

No. 2 L.A. Clippers vs. Dallas

Game 1: Aug. 17, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 2: Aug. 19, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 3: Aug. 21, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Aug. 23, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 5: Aug. 25, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 27, TBD
Game 7: Aug. 29, TBD

No. 3 Denver vs. No. 6 Utah

Game 1: Aug. 17, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 2: Aug. 19, 4 p.m. (TNT)
Game 3: Aug. 21, 4 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Aug. 23, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Aug. 25, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 27, TBD
Game 7: Aug. 29, TBD

Oklahoma City vs. Houston (4/5 finish order yet to be decided)

Game 1: Aug. 18, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Aug. 20, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3: Aug. 22, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 4: Aug. 24, 4 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Aug. 26, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 28, TBD
Game 7: Aug. 30, TBD

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee vs. No. 8 Orlando

Game 1: Aug. 18, 1:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Aug. 20, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3: Aug. 22, 1:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Aug. 24, 1:30 p.m. (NBATV)
Game 5: Aug. 26, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 28, TBD
Game 7: Aug. 30, TBD

No. 2 Toronto vs. No. 7 Brooklyn

Game 1: Aug. 17, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 2: Aug. 19, 1:30 p.m. (NBATV)
Game 3: Aug. 21, 1:30 p.m. (NBA TV)
Game 4: Aug. 23, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Aug. 25, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 27, TBD (ESPN)
Game 7: Aug. 29, TBD (TNT)

No. 3 Boston vs. No. 6 Philadelphia

Game 1: Aug. 17, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 2: Aug. 19, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 3: Aug. 21, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Aug. 23, 1 p.m. (ABC)
Game 5: Aug. 25, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 27, TBD (ESPN)
Game 7: Aug. 29, TBD (TNT)

Miami vs. Indiana (4/5 finish order yet to be decided)

Game 1: Aug. 18, 4 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Aug. 20, 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3: Aug. 22, 3:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Aug. 24, 6:30 (TNT)
Game 5: Aug. 26, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 28, TBD
Game 7: Aug. 30, TBD

Memphis advances to play-in; Phoenix goes perfect 8-0 but needs help to join them

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Memphis entered the bubble with a 3.5 game cushion as the eighth seed in the West. All Ja Morant and company had to do was hold on to that and they would be in the league’s new play-in series.

They didn’t.

Phoenix entered the bubble as a playoff afterthought, so far back of Memphis — and with so many teams between them — that Devin Booker would have to explode and the Suns would need to be perfect in the bubble.

They were. With a win over Dallas Thursday, Phoenix went 8-0 in the seeding games.

That still may not be enough.

Memphis beat Milwaukee 119-106 Thursday, with that the Grizzlies are assured of a spot in the play-in as at least the nine seed.

That means Phoenix needs Brooklyn to beat Portland later Thursday night. If the Nets pull the upset, the Grizzlies become the eight seed and the Suns would jump to the nine seed. If Portland wins, it is in the play-in against Memphis (with the Trail Blazers as the eighth seed), and Phoenix takes off for Cancun and the offseason.

The Grizzlies and Suns winning means the San Antonio Spurs historic playoff streak ends at 22 seasons, they are now mathematically eliminated.

Thursday’s games came with the promise of playoff-chase drama but ended up the kind of duds we see at the end of a typical regular season when one team has something to play for and the other is coasting and disinterested.

The Grizzlies didn’t win because Rookie of the Year to be Morant put up a triple-double (12 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists).

Rather it was a testament to the Memphis front office building out a solid, balanced roster around their young stars. Memphis got 31 from third-year player Dillon Brooks (a second-round pick they developed), plus 26 points and 19 rebounds from Jonas Valanciunas (acquired in a trade).

The Bucks were without Giannis Antetokounmpo who was suspended one game for headbutting Moe Wagner of the Wizards. That certainly helped the Grizzlies, although it’s unlikely the Greek Freak would have played significant minutes.

Phoenix got 27 points from Devin Booker, plus balanced scoring behind him. Dario Saric added 16 points off the bench.

A lot of fans had hoped to see Booker and the electric Suns in the play-in game, but in the NBA winning games matters — and not just the last eight in the bubble. All of them. The Suns didn’t do enough of that before the coronavirus shut down the NBA for four months.

The Grizzlies did, so they advance.

Adam Silver: Players not in bubble have heard such positive reports, they’ve asked to join

NBA commission Adam Silver and Warriors star Stephen Curry
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NBA commission Adam Silver warned that everyone involved must be comfortable with some positive coronavirus tests in the bubble.

So far, there have been none.

Silver, in a Q&A with Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

SI: The bubble—sorry, the campus—is operational. Is it what you hoped it would be?

AS: It’s better than what we had envisioned. Players have taken to it in a more spirited way than we thought they would. We knew that this would require enormous sacrifice on everyone’s part, but I think that what is hard to calibrate—and this maybe goes to my experience when I first came into the arena—is the human emotion that comes with being around other people. And I think everyone realized they missed it more than they even understood. There are players either whose teams are not participating, who were unable to engage this summer because of injuries or other issues, who, once they spoke to fellow NBA players, have asked to join the experience down in Orlando.

People generally enjoy being around other people. Basketball players like to play basketball.

The NBA bubble has made those activities – otherwise dangerous due to coronavirus – sufficiently safe.

That surely must be fulfilling for participating players (even if the reason for the whole operation is money, not fulfillment).

Warriors star Stephen Curry admitted his FOMO, and the Trail Blazers – presumably with Trevor Ariza on board – reportedly tried to get Ariza late admission into the bubble.

But I wonder whether there’s a level of “grass is greener on the other side” from the players who asked to join. The bubble participants are away from their families and friends for at least a month, longer if their team advances. That’s easier to accept in theory without actually experiencing it.

2020 NBA Finals schedule sent to teams (but it’s tentative)

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In a typical NBA season, the start date of the NBA Finals is set before training camps ever open.

Nothing about 2020 is typical, including the NBA’s bubble restart in Orlando. While we had known the league had a Finals start date of Sept. 30, and we knew games would be roughly every other day, there were not a lot of details.

At least not until the league sent a memo to teams on Thursday detailing the 2020 NBA Finals schedule, a memo obtained by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

 

While times have not been announced, expect tip-off at 8 or 9 Eastern.

The 2020 NBA Finals schedule has games every other day, except for the two-day gap between Game 4 (Tuesday, Oct. 6) and Game 5 (Friday, Oct. 9).

There is a theory some subscribe to around the league that playoff series will be shorter this year because the weaker team will not have the home crowd to pump them up to steal games. When a team gets down, they will be more likely to stay down. If that proves true — and good luck to you predicting how these Finals will actually go — then the league might move up the Finals date. But don’t be on it, moving the Finals would take coordination with television partner ABC and more, and more than likely the games stay where they are.

The road to the finals, the NBA playoffs, start next Monday  Seven of the eight series are set, with the final spot in the West still up for grabs and headed to a play-in series (the teams in that series will be determined Thursday, with the games Saturday (Aug. 15) and, if necessary, Sunday.