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.

After four-dunk game, Klay Thompson texts former teammate Zaza Pachulia to call him out

Associated Press
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Klay Thompson had 31 points and was 5-of-8 from three Tuesday night in Golden State’s thrashing of Denver to take over the top spot in the West.

Thompson’s destruction of the Nuggets’ defense was so complete he had the very rare four dunk night.

Last season, Thompson had a bet with former Warriors center Zaza Pachulia about which of them would dunk first on the season (and which one would have the most dunks). That came up again Tuesday — and Thompson texted Pachulia during the middle of his media scrum to say he is now up 11-1 in the dunk race this season.

The Warriors were back to having fun Tuesday night, and when they play with that joy they are unstoppable.

Kelly Oubre misses two FTs as Pacers fans chant ‘John Wall hates you’ (VIDEO)

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The Washington Wizards are a dysfunctional organization with a roster that doesn’t seem to like each other very much. They’ve made some changes, including sending Kelly Oubre to the Phoenix Suns exchange for Trevor Ariza.

Meanwhile, John Wall is out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a Haglund’s deformity and an Achilles tendon injury in his left heel. That’s somehow left the Wizards in better shape, with guys like Bradley Beal netting triple-doubles.

But for Oubre? It’s not been so great.

On Tuesday as the Suns got set to take on the Indiana Pacers, fans in the Hoosier State decided to troll Oubre while he was at the free-throw line.

Via Twitter:

Oubre is a career 78 percent free-throw shooter, so him missing two in a row is a bit of an anomaly. Even further, that Oubre let the crowd get to him is pretty wild.

Hopefully he can move on from the Wizards’ stink, although playing for the organization in Phoenix might not be the best way to do that.

Three Things to Know: Any questions? Warriors take over first in West after routing Denver

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Any questions? Warriors take over first place in West after scoring 51 points in the first quarter, routing Denver. Injuries. A lack of depth. Infighting. Disinterest that has led to them dropping big games on national television. These Golden State Warriors are not the same, they are in real tr…..

Oh, forget it. They are who we thought they were.

Despite all of the drama and fixation — bordering on obsession in some quarters — on what is wrong in Golden State this season, the team is 30-14 and has taken over first place in the West with an emphatic thrashing of the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night, 142-111.

That win included an NBA-record 51 point first quarter with the Warriors shooting 10-of-14 from three (and putting up an offensive rating of 212.5 (points per 100 possessions).

The Warriors didn’t slow down much the rest of the game, check out this shot chart.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each had 31 points, Kevin Durant added 27.

When the Warriors hit some early threes, get a few easy buckets, and get to play downhill and have fun, it becomes an unstoppable avalanche. That’s what rolled over Denver Tuesday. When you look back at the Warriors’ high profile losses — to the Raptors on national television, to the Lakers on Christmas Day — the games were more of a grind, a slog, they felt more like work and the Warriors just get bored with that in the regular season. They don’t care, and it shows.

But when they care, they remind everyone who has the Larry O’Brien Trophy and how hard it will be to take it from them.

The Nuggets contributed to their own demise, this was not a team that looked ready to defend with energy from the first tip. In transition, the Nuggets were slow to match up. When Curry would make a cut to the corner, defenders were a couple of steps slow going with him and we all know what happens when Curry has space. Denver’s defensive switching was sloppy. While the Nuggets on the season have a top-10 NBA defense, that has slid to the second worst in the NBA in the last 10 games. Denver is in a defensive rut and that will come back to bite them against more than the Warriors if they don’t turn it around.

2) How did that Jimmy Butler trade work out? Sixers rout Timberwolves in the first meeting of teams since the trade. The Minnesota Timberwolves have been better without Jimmy Butler — they have gone 17-13 with a +3.7 net rating since former coach/GM Tom Thibodeau finally realized Butler’s antics were destroying his team and shipped the All-Star off to Philly. Karl-Anthony Towns has led the resurgence, returning to his All-NBA level of play.

You would know none of that if you watched the what Butler’s Sixers did to the Timberwolves Tuesday night.

On a night the Timberwolves should have shown up with some fight, they rolled over. It made what Butler said as he torpedoed the Minnesota season look prophetic.

While Butler’s return was the storyline coming it, it wasn’t what keyed the win. Joel Embiid owned KAT, scoring 31 points and grabbing 13 rebounds while holding Towns to 14 points, leading Philly to a 149-107 destruction of Minnesota. Embiid was trash talking after the game on social media.

So was Butler, who had 19 points on the night and said after the game “It was everything that I thought it would be.” Butler helped spark an 83-point first half from the Sixers, this game was over early. For all the questions about the fit of Butler, Embiid, and Ben Simmons, things looked a lot better in Philly than they did when Butler was calling out Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Minnesota played terribly, particularly on defense where they looked like they had never seen a dribble hand-off before. You can say it was a flat outing, something that happens over the course of 82, but they looked more like a team that was intimidated. They made Butler look right.

Ryan Saunders needs to figure out how to get his guys back on track and back in the playoff chase in the West, where the Timberwolves remain 2.5 games out of returning to the playoffs with a lot of work to do.

3) Atlanta continues it’s improved play, routs Oklahoma City 142-126. While nobody was looking, the Atlanta Hawks have been playing pretty good basketball — they are now 8-7 in their last 15 games, with an average NBA offense and a just slightly below average defense in that stretch (not great for most teams, but a vast improvement for the Hawks).

They capped off that run of good play Tuesday with a 142-126 win over Oklahoma City. Rookie point guard Trae Young had 24 points and 11 assists, and he has started to show some chemistry with Kevin Huerter, who finished with 17 points of his own.

The Thunder have the best defense in the NBA on the season, allowing 103.6 points per 100 possessions, but in the last five games that has slipped to 119.7 per 100 (28th in the league in that stretch). Teams have bad stretches over the course of 82, but the Thunder are built on defense and they can’t afford for this run to last much longer.

Jimmy Butler posts Instagram trolling Andrew Wiggins after Sixers beat Wolves by 42

AP
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Jimmy Butler is nothing if not petty. The Philadelphia 76ers guard scored a whopping 19 points As they took on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night. The Sixers beat Minnesota, 149-107, in a historic beatdown.

Of course, Butler left the Timberwovles under inauspicious circumstances in late 2018, and the narrative has long been that the 29-year-old star has thought Minnesota’s young stars were soft. That included Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, who appear to be doing a sight better now that both Butler and Tom Thibodeau is out of Minneapolis.

Still, the big win over his former team was something Butler couldn’t shy away from relishing on social media immediately after the game. In a post to his Instagram, Butler captioned a photo of him looking through a blurry Wiggins with the caption, “Looking right through the past.. to the future!”

Via Instagram:

Oof.

Things aren’t much clearer for Butler in Philadelphia given some rumored conflict between him, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid, but his entertainment value remains through the roof.