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.

Report: Dell Demps bypassed Rob Pelinka for Magic Johnson in Anthony Davis trade talks

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It appears that Anthony Davis is headed to the Los Angeles Lakers. The trade was announced this weekend between L.A. and the New Orleans Pelicans, but won’t be completed until July 6. Earlier this season, it was thought this trade could never happen. Tensions between the two teams were high, and negotiations had broken down.

That was perhaps due in some part to the odd back-and-forth between the teams’ front offices. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, one peculiarity was that former Pelicans GM Dell Demps wouldn’t deal with Lakers GM Rob Pelinka. Demps would only discuss things with Magic Johnson.

Via ESPN:

Now, calling those discussions in February “negotiations” is a bit of a stretch. The Pelicans were never serious about dealing with the Lakers then. They didn’t like being forced into this position by Davis and his representative, Rich Paul. And they probably weren’t going to let former general manager Dell Demps make this big of a decision anyway.

So the Lakers — really just Johnson, because Demps wouldn’t talk to Pelinka — would call and Demps would write names on the board without giving them any feedback. Those names would leak publicly and do damage to the Lakers’ team chemistry. But eventually, Johnson and the Lakers got the hint and stopped banging up against what had become an incredibly self-destructive wall.

It’s possible that Demps wanted to deal with Magic simply because he thought he had ultimate authority. That, or maybe Demps thought Johnson would be easier to manipulate?

There’s also the idea that Demps could have had a poor relationship with Pelinka from when he was an agent. For example, Pelinka client Eric Gordon had a restricted free agent saga wherein he tried to leave New Orleans for the Phoenix Suns in 2012. The Pelicans matched, and the shooting guard never played more than 65 games in a season. This is conjecture of course, but it’s not as though Demps hadn’t dealt with Pelinka in the past. There’s been reports that Pelinka is unliked by some GMs around the league from his days as an agent.

I think we’re going to keep seeing information about the inner workings of the Lakers and former Pelicans front office like this over the next several months. This one is pretty odd, but it’s not entirely surprising.

Magic Johnson congratulates Lakers, Rob Pelinka, on Anthony Davis trade

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Magic Johnson left the Los Angeles Lakers under inauspicious terms. Turn the last game of the season, the Lakers great announced that he would be resigning his position effective immediately. In an extended hallway interview, Johnson said that he hadn’t even informed close friend and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss.

Now Magic is back to his old tricks, flashing his pearly white smile on television and tweeting banal observations about the NBA.

Johnson was supposed to be part of the team that got New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis to Staples Center. He couldn’t get the deal done, and things reportedly got testy between the two organizations during the regular season.

The Lakers were able to finally trade for Davis in an agreed-upon deal on Saturday. The trade reportedly won’t be completed until July 6th, but all indications are that Davis will be a Laker.

To that end, Johnson is apparently quite happy. He took to social media to congratulate Buss and the organization on Saturday. Eventually — surprisingly — he even gave props to Rob Pelinka.

Via Twitter:

The Pelicans got a great haul for Davis, and the Lakers got what they wanted in another star to pair with LeBron James.

It’s unclear if Los Angeles will be able to build a roster around their two stars enough to contend deep into the Western Conference playoffs. That’s still up for debate, and health will be a serious question as they try to rely on an aging James and a shaky Davis.

Still, the Lakers are headed in the direction they would like and with the West now more in question than ever. We don’t know what’s happening with the Golden State Warriors, and the Houston Rockets could be in full teardown mode as they look to ditch Chris Paul.

We’re headed into the summer and there’s a bit of daylight for fans in L.A.

Report: Celtics wouldn’t include Jayson Tatum in Anthony Davis trade talks

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Anthony Davis is headed to the Los Angeles Lakers. The New Orleans Pelicans got a significant haul in exchange for their beleaguered star, and LeBron James is openly happy his team finally got the player they wanted all along.

Other favorites to land Anthony Davis this offseason were the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks. Danny Ainge had to wait until after July 1 to make a trade for Davis thanks to some special CBA rules regarding Kyrie Irving‘s contract.

But that no longer appears to be on the table, in part because Boston decided not to offer Jayson Tatum in any deal for Davis. Thought to be the crown jewel of any potential Celtics-Pelicans trade, there was also concern by Ainge that Davis would not re-sign in Beantown.

Via Twitter:

This runs contrary to everything we’ve heard about Boston going after Davis. Ainge has always been one to leverage his assets in a way that’s less conservative than other team execs. Plus, the reports have been that the Celtics were not concerned about Davis re-signing. Perhaps Davis gave them a little extra information, telling them directly that he would not re-sign? Davis’ agent Rich Paul said as much publicly, but what’s posturing and what’s negotiating isn’t one in the same.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Pelicans and Lakers will complete the deal on July 6. There’s a lot of time before we hit that date, and Pelicans leader David Griffin won’t back out of his deal with L.A. But the fact there’s still time on the table and the Celtics didn’t change their tune on Tatum tells us all the information we need to know.

Rumor: LeBron James hoping Kyrie Irving might join Lakers despite Nets talk

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The Anthony Davis trade saga is finally over. The deal between the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers hasn’t been completed yet, and is expected to be done on July 6.

For now, L.A. can move its attention elsewhere to look for another star. The Lakers will have significant cap space — $23.7 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks — and they’ll need another star.

Talk recently has been that former LeBron James running mate Kyrie Irving is headed to the Brooklyn Nets. But no deal is officially in place, and free agency hasn’t started. According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, there are folks in LeBron’s camp who are hopeful that Irving could still join L.A.

Via The Athletic:

Just days before the Davis deal was done, a source close to James indicated some optimism that – Nets noise be darned – Irving was still in play for the Lakers.

Remember, Irving and James had a heart-to-heart talk earlier in the season. They hashed out what happened in Cleveland, with Irving apologizing to James for how he acted as a younger man.

That sparked speculation that Irving could be looking to join LeBron with the Lakers this summer when he had the ability to opt out of his contract with the Boston Celtics.

We haven’t even reached the 2019 NBA draft yet, and already free agency is ramping up and getting crazy. This July is going to be wild, and until the music stops and the butts are in the seats, don’t count anyone as being a sure thing for any team just yet.