PBT Playoff Preview: Chicago vs. Philadelphia

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SEASON RECORDS:
Chicago: 50-16 (1 seed)
Philadelphia: 35-31 (8 seed)

SEASON SERIES:

Chicago won 2-1

OFFENSE/ DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possessions):

Offense: Chicago 107.4 (5th in NBA), Philadelphia 103.9 (20th in NBA)
Defense: Chicago 98.3 (2nd in NBA), Philadelphia 99.2 (3rd in NBA)

THREE KEY BULLS:

Derrick Rose: Last season’s MVP has had an up-and-down season thanks to injuries. Rose is a better playmaker than he was last season, but his points per game, field goal percentage, and 3-point percentage have all taken a significant dip, and he only played in 39 of Chicago’s 66 games. The incredibly deep Bulls were able to secure the East’s best record anyways, but there’s no way they will win a championship if Rose doesn’t return to form in the playoffs.

Rip Hamilton: In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls looked like they were one offensive weapon short against Miami’s relentless strong-side traps of Derrick Rose. In the off-season, the Bulls acquired Hamilton with the hope he could be that weapon. Hamilton averaged 11.7 points per game this season, and while he’s not the player he was in Detroit anymore, he still works as hard as any player in the league off the ball offensively and can make shots from all over the floor.

Joakim Noah: Even though the Bulls are a much more dangerous offensive team this season than they were last year, they’re still a defense-first team, and will only go as far as their defense can carry them in the playoffs. Noah is the Bulls’ defensive quarterback, and his uncanny ability to handle and pass the ball for a center gives the Bulls an extra dimension offensively when they keep him involved.

THREE KEY 76ers:

Andre Iguodala: After years being miscast as a #1 scoring option, Iguodala is finally being allowed to play the role he was meant to play: an efficient point forward who does work without the ball and is one of the three best perimeter defenders in the league. Iguodala’s points per game are down this season, but his FG and 3PT% are both way up, and he leads the 76ers in assists per game.

Lou Williams: Even though Williams didn’t make a single start for Philadelphia this season, he managed to lead the team in both points per game and PER. Williams isn’t a high-percentage shooter, but he makes a lot of threes and rarely turns the ball over, which can make him a headache for any defense as a scoring option off the bench. C.J. Watson is a great defensive point guard, so Williams will have his hands full, but in a series that should be as low-scoring as this one, a few timely shots from Williams could make all the difference in the world.

Elton Brand/Thaddeus Young:Okay, so I’m cheating a little bit with this one, but it’s hard to separate the two members of Philadelphia’s power forward platoon. Young is well, Young, left-handed, and likes to do his damage inside, while the veteran Brand is mainly a pick-and-pop player at this stage in his career, but both players have extremely similar numbers and are an integral part of Philadelphia’s attack. Since Carlos Boozer has been known to struggle on both ends of the floor in playoff situations, particularly on defense, Philadelphia will need Brand and Young to “win” the matchup against Boozer if they want to pull off the upset.

OUTLOOK:

This should be a good first-round test for the Bulls. This should be a hard-fought, defensive series, which means the Bulls won’t be able to coast to many blowout victories. On top of that, Philadelphia’s defense was actually statistically better than Miami’s this season, which will allow the Bulls to see if they have what it takes to “break” a top-five defense in a playoff series this season. The Bulls will be tested in this series, but I don’t think they’ll have much trouble passing.<

PREDICTION:

Chicago in 5 hard-fought games.

Grizzlies’ starter JaMychal Green suffers broken jaw, has surgery, out at least 4 weeks

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For a team that needs everything to go right to make the playoffs in the deep West, this is a significant setback.

Grizzlies starting forward JaMychal Green will be out at least a month, likely more, with a broken jaw suffered against the Hawks on Friday night, the team announced.

“Resume basketball activities” means start to practice, which would make his return more like six weeks. For some comparison, when Nikola Mirotic has his jaw broken last season (in very different circumstances, thanks again Bobby Portis) it took about seven weeks for him to return to the court.

For Green and Grizzlies fans, this is the worst kind of deja vu — last season Green sprained his ankle four minutes into the team’s home opener and missed the next dozen games.

Green is a solid three for the Grizzlies, averaging 7.5 points and 6 rebounds through two games this season (which is right in line with his numbers this season).

This likely means rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. — who has impressed coming off the bench in two games, as he did at Summer League — moves into the starting lineup. That should be interesting for the Grizzlies.

Maintenance rest starts early: Kawhi Leonard, Gordon Hayward, Jimmy Butler all out Saturday

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Last season the NBA leaned in on teams resting players, particularly in high-profile, televised games. The NBA built in rest before those games to help, and teams mostly played along, but players who teams wanted to be cautious with still got their rest. That is not changing now, NBA teams have science to back it up.

The rest is starting early this season — Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard, Boston’s Gordon Hayward, and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler are all out Saturday night on the second night of back-to-backs.

Neither of these should be a surprise. Both Hayward and Leonard are coming off injuries that cost them a season and both are clearly feeling their way back into this season (Leonard seems ahead of Hayward on that front so far). Both Toronto and Boston have their eyes on May and June, there is no reason to push a player and risk injury in October that could be a much more significant setback.

In Toronto, OG Anunoby will start on the wing for Leonard. In Boston, Aron Baynes will start as Brad Stevens goes big.

In Minnesota…

It will be interesting to see how the Timberwolves come out against Dallas without Butler, who is their spark plug. Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns should step up and have big nights to lead the team, this is a game Minnesota should still will, but how will they respond on a back-to-back? Something to watch.

Lakers’ James to make home debut against Rockets tonight

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — LeBron James will make his regular-season home debut as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers when they host the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.

James, a four-time NBA most valuable player, signed with the Lakers in July after leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to four straight NBA Final appearances, including their first championship in 2016.

He has played in every NBA Finals since 2010, also winning titles in 2012 and 2013 with the Miami Heat.

James had 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in his Los Angeles debut against the Trail Blazers in Portland on Thursday night, but the Lakers lost 128-119.

The Lakers will likely need a better start with their long-range shooting against the Rockets. Los Angeles missed its first 15 tries from 3-point range before finishing 7 for 30 (23.3 percent) against Portland.

James said he and his new teammates are still going through a feeling-out period.

“It takes a while to get to where you can close your eyes and know exactly where your guys are,” he told reporters after his Lakers debut. “It’s going to take patience from our team, from all of us, to just figure out one another, figure out what we are good at, figure out what we are not so good at, how we can be better at it.”

The Rockets returned their core players from last season’s team that lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, and they added 10-time NBA All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony to the mix. They seemed to run low on energy in their season opener against the visiting New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night, however.

After getting outscored by 17 points in the first half, the Rockets were unable to generate a push against the Pelicans and lost 131-112. New Orleans shot 53.1 percent from the floor.

“I thought they were tired,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who coached the Lakers for two seasons (2012-13 and 2013-14).

James Harden, who averaged an NBA-leading 30.4 points last season en route to winning NBA MVP honors, was held to 18 points on 6-for-15 shooting.

Anthony, who played the last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, scored nine points off the bench on 3-for-10 shooting.

Harden, a Los Angeles-area native, is averaging 30.3 points in 32 career games against the Lakers.

One of the bright spots for the Lakers in their season opener was the play of reserve shooting guard Josh Hart. The second-year player scored 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including 3 for 5 from 3-point range.

Hart played 27 minutes, the same as starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. who was limited to five points on 1-for-3 shooting from the floor.

Hart didn’t want to talk about his offense afterward, but rather how he could improve on his defense after Portland reserve shooting guard Nik Stauskas scored 24 points and shot 5 of 8 on 3-pointers.

“Just got to make sure we get the adjustments down and get better on defense,” he told Spectrum SportsNet.

Raptors’ pregame video on Canadian broadcast is group therapy session for Toronto

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Raptors fans are pumped — and they should be, their team knocked off the Celtics Friday night with Kawhi Leonard dropping 31 points (and still showing some rust on the offensive end, he is going to get better). Toronto is positioned to be the one team in the East that is a genuine threat to the Celtics (sorry Philly, not just yet).

Yet Raptors fans as a whole expect the worst, they come with a grey cloud following them and an inferiority complex, Leonard is a free agent next summer, and there is a history of players leaving Toronto…

Which is why the Sportsnet Canada broadcast pregame video is remarkable — it’s a group therapy session for Toronto and all of Canada. To be clear, this was not shown in the arena before the game, it was on the national broadcast, but still, check it out.

Letting go of the past, not worrying about the future, and living in the moment is always good advice.

Leonard said the key to keeping him in Toronto is winning, and Friday night was a good first step down that road. Of course, there’s more to it than that and other teams are going to be in the mix (keep an eye on the Clippers), but sources around the league I talk to think the Raptors have a chance. Sort of like Paul George in Oklahoma City, if he has a very positive experience, it’s possible he opens his mind to staying. Plus, he can get five years, $190 million from the Raptors and four-years, $139 million from anyone else, for a guy coming off basically missing a season due to injury that security and guaranteed money may matter.

Nobody knows what will happen next summer — Leonard and his family/advisors have been unpredictable. Leonard likely doesn’t even know yet.

Which is why Raptors’ fans should let go of the past, live in the moment and savor this season — it could be the greatest one in Raptors’ history.