NBA Playoffs: 76ers hold on, end Chicago’s season

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Normally, when an 8-seed upsets a 1-seed, like the Golden State Warriors did in 2007 or the Memphis Grizzlies did last year, NBA fans are generally thrilled for an underdog team that beat the odds and prevailed.

This time, however, it’s hard to feel anything but a sense of melancholy for the Chicago Bulls, who did everything right all season long only to see it all go catastrophically awry when Derrick Rose made that ill-fated jump stop in Game 1.

The 76ers deserve a lot of credit for taking care of business and beating the Bulls, particularly in a tightly-contested 79-78 Game 6. Especially since Chicago played well without Rose in the lineup all year. But it’s hard not to put an asterisk on this series when the Bulls were without their best offensive player for the final five games of the series and the leader of their defense for the final two.

With the win the Sixers will face the Celtics in the next round in a series that will begin on Saturday.

The Bulls gave the 76ers everything they could handle in game 6, holding them to just 79 points on sub-40% shooting from the field, but without Rose and Noah they simply couldn’t muster enough offense to bring the series back to Chicago for a Game 7. Carlos Boozer will be a likely scapegoat for the Bulls after this game, as he was only able to score 3 points on 1-11 shooting in a game where the Bulls needed him to provide some offense. Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton were able to provide some offense for the Bulls, but with Boozer melting down and C.J. Watson, Rose’s backup, only managing 6 points on 2-11 shooting, the Bulls simply didn’t have enough scoring to get past the 76ers’ tough defense.

To the Bulls’ credit, they hung tough after falling behind early, and actually had a great chance to win the game late. With a 1-point lead and the ball, Omer Asik went to the line with a chance to put the Bulls up 3 points with 7 seconds remaining. Unfortunately for Chicago, Asik, a 45.6% free throw shooter in the regular season, came up empty at the line, and 5 seconds later Andre Iguodala was able to hit two free throws and end the Bulls’ fantastic season before they had a chance to make a true playoff run.

The big question facing the Bulls coming out of this series is whether they will be willing to stand pat and chalk their disappointing playoff run up to the Rose and Noah injuries or make a big move, one that would likely involve Carlos Boozer. Boozer is a great rebounder and can fill it up in the regular season, but great defenses have given him trouble in the playoffs: he shot 42.2% in this series,  40.7% in last year’s series against the Heat, and 44.6% against the Lakers in the 2010 playoffs. The Bulls have a great young core, unmatched depth, and one of the best coaches in the league, but it may be time to ask if they can win a championship with Carlos Boozer playing a major role against top-level defenses in a 7-game series.

As for the 76ers, they showed why they shouldn’t be overlooked in this series — they play tough defense, they have a lot of depth, and they come to play for the full 48 minutes. They’ll certainly be the underdogs when they play the Celtics or the Hawks, but they shouldn’t be counted out either.

For now, they should celebrate their 1st-round victory, even though most NBA fans are probably feeling more sympathy for the Bulls than excitement for the 76ers right about now.

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

Jae Crowder does salsa dance in Suns-Lakers Game 6
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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.