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.

Jonathan Isaac, Al-Farouq Aminu not expected to be back for Magic when games restart

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Jonathan Isaac was having a breakout season for Orlando. He had become a go-to defensive stopper for the Magic, a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He was going to get All-Defensive team votes this season and looked like a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. (On offense he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests, but he is still a project.)

He hyperextended his knee and suffered a bone bruise in January, but it looks like neither he nor veteran Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus) will be on the court for the Magic when games restart in July, reports Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel.

Injured forwards Jonathan Isaac (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee) most likely will not be healthy enough to return…

“Not a whole lot of news there,” [Magic president of basketball operations Jeff] Weltman said when asked about the possibility of Isaac or Aminu returning. “As always, we’re going to wait and see how they respond to rehab. They’re both working very hard.

“There’s a difference of being healthy and then being safely healthy. It will have been a long, long time since those guys played and you know organizationally that we’re never going to put our guys in a position where they’re exposed to any sort of risk of injury. So that being said, we’ll just continue to see how they progress.”

Put plainly, the risk is not worth the reward. Isaac is a key part of what the Magic want to build in the future and they do not want to push him too hard to return for this handful of games.

Come July, the Magic will head down the street to the Walt Disney World resort complex in Orlando as the eighth seed in the East with a 5.5 game lead over the ninth-seeded Wizards (who will not have John Wall back). If Washington can close that gap to four games or fewer during the eight “seeding games,” then there will be a two-game play-in series between the teams, with the Magic just needing to win one of the two to advance (assuming they are still the eight seed).

After that, it’s on to the first round of the playoffs and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Isaac’s defense would be helpful against Bradley Beal and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Magic are thinking bigger picture.

Winning percentage will determine final seedings in NBA restart; regular tiebreakers used

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Heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Trail Blazers are the nine seed in the West, followed by the Pelicans and Kings. All three of those teams are 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed, however, Portland gets the nine seed because it played two more games than either New Orleans and Sacramento, went 1-1 in those two games, and that gives Portland a slightly better winning percentage (.439 to .438).

That winning percentage matters because it’s how the league will determine seeding in a situation where teams have played a different number of games, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

In practical terms, this may not matter much.

In the West, if Portland and New Orleans both went 8-0 in the seeding games then winning percentage would play a role with the Blazers getting the higher seed. However, that scenario is highly unlikely. More likely is wins and losses in Orlando will decide this and other tiebreakers (New Orleans beat Sacramento in their one head-to-head meeting, but our projected schedule for those teams has them playing twice, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is still up in the air). Because of how the records shake out, tiebreakers are irrelevant to Portland — it will not tie any teams, winning percentage will decide their seed.

In the East, winning percentage is irrelevant for the playoff chase — either Washington gets within four games of Orlando hand forces play-in games for the final playoff spot, or it doesn’t and Orlando is in.

Eight teams not headed to Orlando considering mini-camps, summer games to help players

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Nine months is a long time to go without playing a basketball game.

That’s what the eight teams not going to the NBA season restart in Orlando — Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota, and New York — face. And for all of those teams except the Warriors, developing young players to be the future core of the franchise is their goal, and no games from March to December will set that effort back.

Which is why the teams are talking about “mini-camps” — think college spring football — with two teams at least playing each other during those camps, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Among the front-office ideas presented to the NBA, sources said:

• A combination of voluntary and mandatory workouts for two weeks in July.
• Regional minicamps in August that include joint practices for a period of days and approximately three televised games.

Those teams also want other “voluntary” team workouts and to start their training camps for next season earlier than the teams headed to Orlando.

The NBA isn’t going to grant teams everything on their wish list, but there should be some allowance for organized mini-camps and scrimmages/exhibitions. This would be particularly important to New York (and maybe Chicago), where a new coach will be installing a new system and trying to start a new culture.

Those eight teams missed out on 17 or so “meaningless” games with their season put on hold, games that would have meant something in terms of developing young players and giving guys key minutes. The league should — and almost certainly will — take steps to allow those off-season camps and scrimmages, helping teams get their player development programs back on track.

Gregg Popovich’s powerful statement: ‘Our country is in trouble and the basic reason is race’

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As protests continue across the nation — sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but really the culmination of decades of systemic and, sometimes, overt racism across the United States — NBA voices have spoken up. Players, coaches, and staff have done more than take to social media, they have participated in and led marches across the nation, and put their money where their mouth is.

One of those voices is Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

He had spoken to Dave Zirin at The Nation, and on Saturday he released a powerful video statement through the Spurs.

Popovich has been at the forefront of NBA voices willing to speak out on social issues and criticize President Donald Trump. Popovich’s voice carries a lot of weight, both as a leader of men, and as a former Air Force officer who underwent intelligence training and specialized in Soviet studies.

In addition to coaching the San Antonio Spurs, Popovich will coach the USA Basketball team in the Tokyo Olympics, now set for July of 2021.