PBT First-Round Playoff Previews: Chicago Bulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks

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SEASON RECORDS
Bulls: 50-32, third place in Eastern Conference
Bucks: 40-42, sixth place in Eastern Conference
Bulls won season series 3-1.
KEY INJURIES
Bulls: Derrick Rose played just 10 minutes in the Bulls’ season finale after experiencing soreness in his left knee. Taj Gibson also exited the game early with a left shoulder strain. Joakim Noah missed the last two games of the season with left knee tendinitis. All three are expected to be ready to go for Game 1, but they’re worth keeping an eye on. Kirk Hinrich missed the final two games of the regular season after reinjuring a hyperextended left knee. His status for the start of the playoffs is unknown.
Bucks: Jared Dudley rested the final two games of the season with a back injury, but he’s expected to be ready for the playoffs. Jabari Parker is out for the season rehabbing a torn ACL in his left knee.
OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS
Bulls: 104.7 points scored per 100 possessions (10th in NBA); 101.5 points allowed per 100 possessions (11th in NBA).
Bucks: 100.5 points scored per 100 possessions (26th in NBA); 99.3 points allowed per 100 possessions (2nd in NBA).
THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES
1) Are the Bulls healthy? Good health has been hard to come by for Chicago this season. They’ve played just five games all season with their full roster healthy (they’re 4-1 in those games) and 21 games with their regular starting lineup (they’re 16-5 in those games). They’re planning on having everybody healthy going into the playoffs, and when they do, they’re tough to beat. They should be able to survive an injury or two against the Bucks, but another setback for Rose or Noah would be a huge blow to their title chances.
2) Which Derrick Rose will show up? There have been times this season, individual games, when Rose has looked like the 2011 league MVP version of himself. The explosiveness is still there at times and he’s generally moving well. But he’s taking a career-high 5.4 three-pointers per game and shooting 28 percent from long range. It’s hard to tell whether he genuinely thinks he’s a good three-point shooter (he isn’t, and he never was, even in the MVP season) or if he’s using it as a crutch to avoid attacking the basket every time. If he’s aggressive, he’s still hard to stop. But defenders are giving him the three whenever he wants it and he isn’t making them pay.
3) Where will the Bucks find offense? Milwaukee has had tremendous success on the defensive end, for which Jason Kidd deserves a lot of credit. But the early-season knee injury to Parker torpedoed their offense, which is the sixth-worst in the league. Of their players with over 1,000 minutes, only John Henson shot over 50 percent from the field, and the only 40-percent three-point shooter on the roster is Khris Middleton. They traded the best outside shooter on the team, Brandon Knight, for a point guard who can’t shoot at all in Michael Carter-Williams. The Bulls’ defense fell off from previous seasons, but it’s still top-11 and should be well up to the task of containing the Bucks’ nonexistent offense. If the Bucks hope to pull off an upset, they have to manufacture points somewhere, and looking up and down their roster, it’s difficult to say where that will be.

PREDICTION

Milwaukee will keep the series competitive with its defense, but they simply do not have the scoring to have a real chance at the upset. Bulls in 5.

Charles Barkley says he hasn’t worn underwear in a decade (video)

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Charles Barkley can’t control everything, like whether the Magic hire him as general manager.

But he can control his underpants, as he explained on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Knicks stress patience, indulge impatient tendencies by stretching Joakim Noah

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry talked a big game about patiently rebuilding – practically a foreign concept in New York.

And most of the summer, they backed up their words.

They drafted Kevin Knox No. 9 and Mitchell Robinson No. 36. They didn’t sign a single free agent to a multi-year deal. They made no win-now trade (or any trade at all).

Yet, even in the Knicks’ most patient offseason in years, they closed it with an incredibly impatient move.

New York stretched Joakim Noah, locking in a cap hit of $18,530,000 this season and $6,431,667 each of the following three years. The move opens an additional $12,863,333 in cap space next summer.

But what if the Knicks don’t need that extra room? What if they don’t attract free agents worth spending that amount then? Eating Noah’s entire $19,295,000 2019-20 salary that season, rather than splitting it over three years, is off the table.

What if they need even more room? What if they can draw great free agents who command more money than New York can offer? Attaching sweeteners to trade Noah’s salary and remove it entirely is also now impossible.

The Knicks could have waited until next summer to stretch, straight waive or trade Noah. They would have had far more information then, as the stretch deadline is Aug. 31.

This move puts so much needless pressure on New York to use its cap space next summer. Though the Knicks’ reported top target, Kyrie Irving, already said he’d re-sign with the Celtics, Kevin Durant-New York rumors are swirling, and Jimmy Butler put the Knicks on his list. The Knicks project to have about $33 million in cap space next summer, including a cap hold for only Kristaps Porzingis. They could add a franchise-changing star.

But this doesn’t jibe with a patient rebuild.

Biding time until next summer, New York took fliers on Mario Hezonja (one year, $6.5 million) and Noah Vonleh (one year, minimum). But despite seemingly tepid markets for those two in free agency, the Knicks didn’t capitalize on their leverage by attaching any additional unguaranteed seasons to their contracts. That will make it extremely difficult to get value from them. If Hezonja or Vonleh break out, they’ll be in line for bigger deals next summer.

Of course, it’s more likely New York’s first-, not second-, draft players dictate the team’s future. For the first time in eight seasons, the Knicks will have three players simultaneously on rookie-scale contracts – Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and Knox. That most-modest benchmark is a major accomplishment in New York, where quick fixes have ruled the day.

After waiving Noah, it’s hard to see the Knicks as truly committed to a new, more prudent approach.

 

Offseason grade: C-

Jimmy Butler expects, welcomes boos from Timberwolves fans

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Jimmy Butler is set to start the season playing for the Timberwolves, who open Wednesday in San Antonio then host the Cavaliers on Friday.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic:

Butler has thrived in adversity and chaos. That’s the story of his life. There’s no reason this saga would be any different. In fact, Butler already showed his resolve during a heated practice.

Minnesota fans are well within their rights to boo Butler. He’s not a bad guy, but in the context of sports, he has made himself a villain there by requesting a trade from the Timberwolves.

The best thing Butler can do is embrace the inevitable backlash, which it sounds as if he’s prepared for.

The bigger question: How will Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor respond? He’s reportedly still looking to trade Butler, but an embarrassing fan response at a home game could shake him into pressing harder to get a deal done.

PBT Predictions: Who makes playoffs, who makes Finals, who wins it all

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Tuesday night the NBA season tips-off and the race for the playoffs begins, the first steps of a race that runs through June with some team lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. We’ve already made our predictions for who will win MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and more.

Now it’s on to the team predictions: Who’s getting in the playoffs? Who will have home-court advantage? And which team will win it all?

Here are our picks:

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kurt Helin: A little odd Dan and I agree up and down the line here. Putting the Raptors second is a bet that both Kawhi Leonard is his old self and new coach Nick Nurse can diversify the offense. The Pacers could finish fourth, but I’m very high on the Bucks with Mike Budenholzer so I’ll go with them getting home court. Also, Charlotte easily could best Miami or Detroit for one of those lower playoff seeds, and I’m not counting the Cavaliers out completely.

Dan Feldman: The Bucks are rising, to the point I thought about putting them over the 76ers. The bottom of the East playoff picture is ugly (and also includes the Hornets a small step behind Detroit).

WESTERN CONFERENCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kurt Helin: Much like last season, I expect Golden State and Houston to be in and after that a razor-thin margin (five games or less) separating the three seed and the 10 seed. I’d have the Thunder higher but I think missing Andre Roberson the first couple months of the season is a big blow. I have the Timberwolves and Spurs missing the playoffs, but either could make it. I have Minnesota out on the assumption they trade Jimmy Butler. With the Spurs, I think the Dejounte Murray injury is a bigger blow than people realize.

Dan Feldman: The Spurs’ injuries and the Timberwolves’ [gestures at every Jimmy Butler link in the sidebar) made it easier to exclude them, but they still have a chance. So do the Clippers, Mavericks and Grizzlies. Too bad they’re all stuck in the West.

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS:

Kurt Helin
ECF: Celtics over Raptors
WCF: Warriors over Rockets>
FINALS: Warriors over Celtics

I don’t think the Warriors are a title lock, both Houston in the West and Boston in the East have a legitimate shot to dethrone them. However, assuming health, I just can’t pick someone else.

Dan Feldman
ECF: Celtics over 76ers
WCF: Warriors over Rockets
FINALS: Warriors over Celtics
Golden State isn’t guaranteed another title by any means, but there’s no way I’m picking someone else.