PBT Second-Round Playoff Previews: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls

6 Comments

SEASON RECORDS

Cavaliers: 53-29, second place in Eastern Conference.

Bulls: 50-32, third place in Eastern Conference.

FIRST ROUND

Cavaliers: Swept Boston in four games.

Bulls: Beat Milwaukee in six games.

KEY INJURIES

Cavaliers: Kevin Love underwent surgery this week for a separated shoulder that occurred in Game 4 of the Celtics series. He’s out four to six months. The Cavs will also be without J.R. Smith for the first two games after he was suspended for punching Jae Crowder in the face.

Bulls: None, which feels weird to type. But Joakim Noah has been banged up all year and Nikola Mirotic is coming off a knee injury in Game 3 of the Bucks series, so their play is worth keeping an eye on.

OFFENSIVE AND DEFENSIVE RANKINGS

Cavaliers: Scored 107.7 points per 10 possessions (4th in NBA); Allowed 104.1 points per 100 possessions (20th in NBA).

Bulls: Scored 104.7 points per 100 possessions (10th in NBA); Allowed 101.5 points per 100 possessions (11th in NBA).

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1. How will the Cavs’ rotation adjust to Love’s absence? Love had an up-and-down season but by the time the playoffs hit, he’d grown into his role with the Cavs. He’s been crucial as a floor-spacing big man and rebounding machine. Without him, the Cavs lose some versatility. They’ll either have to start Tristan Thompson and sacrifice some of their bench production or play LeBron James at power forward, which can tire him out. Which brings us to…

2. Can the Bulls make LeBron work on defense? James has a lot of miles on him, so the Bulls’ best hope is to tire him out. If he plays power forward, they’ll either post up Taj Gibson on him or make him chase Nikola Mirotic around the perimeter.

3. How consistent will Derrick Rose be? Rose was phenomenal Games 1, 3 and 6 of the Bucks series. When he’s on, he looks like every bit the player who won MVP in 2011. He’s no longer taking threes as his first option on any play — he’s looking to attack and make plays more now. If that version of Rose shows up every game against the Cavs, Chicago will be tough to beat.

PREDICTION

It’s a coin flip. Losing Love hurts, but the Cavs still have the two best players in the series, including the best player in the world. Like the Spurs, until he’s actually out, I’m not going to be the one to pick against him. Cavs in 7.

Timberwolves win first road game in 52 days, top Heat (video)

Leave a comment

MIAMI — Jordan McLaughlin’s layup with just under nine seconds left put Minnesota ahead for good, D’Angelo Russell led all scorers with 27 points and the Timberwolves added to Miami’s late-season stagger by beating the Heat 129-126 on Wednesday night.

Malik Beasley scored 21 points, Juancho Hernangomez tied a season-high with 17 and McLaughlin added 13 for Minnesota. The Timberwolves were down by 12 with 3:59 left, then closed on a 20-5 run to get just their second victory in 20 games.

Jimmy Butler’s two free throws with 13.8 seconds left put Miami up 126-125, but McLaughlin’s layup on the next Minnesota possession put the Timberwolves on top to stay. Butler’s layup with 3.2 seconds left got blocked by Russell, and the Wolves held on.

Minnesota snapped a nine-game road losing streak, getting its first road victory since beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 5.

Kendrick Nunn led Miami with 24 points. Bam Adebayo had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Butler — back after a two-game absence for personal reasons — had 18 for Miami. The Heat fell to 23-4 at home and have dropped seven of their last nine overall.

The Heat stayed a half-game ahead of Philadelphia in the race for the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Philadelphia lost in Cleveland earlier Wednesday, a game where 76ers star Joel Embiid departed early because of a shoulder injury.

The Heat have had major trouble closing games of late — a 22-point lead late in the third quarter against Cleveland on Monday was frittered away in what probably was the worst loss of the season, until now anyway — and a long film session and meeting on Tuesday clearly didn’t solve the issue.

They were up 121-109 with 3:59 left, and 123-112 after a layup by Butler 24 seconds later.

And Minnesota — a team that came into the night with one win in a span of 48 days — still wasn’t finished off. The Timberwolves scored the next 11 points to tie the game, getting five of those points from Beasley and a tying free throw from McLaughlin with 46 seconds left.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Minnesota’s 27 attempts from 3-point range in the first two quarters was a first-half franchise record. … The Wolves are 4-0 in road games against Southeast Division teams this season, and 6-19 in all other road contests.

Heat: Adebayo played through a sprained right ankle, pushing his consecutive-game streak to 144 — extending the fourth-longest such streak in team history. … Goran Dragic’s first basket was a 3-pointer, and that pushed him one point past Grant Long (5,473) for 10th on the Heat career scoring list. … Nunn got his third consecutive rookie of the month trophy in a brief halftime ceremony.

JOHNSON RETURNS

Wednesday marked James Johnson’s first game back in Miami since the trade that sent him to Minnesota earlier this month, a move that sent Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to Miami from Memphis. “I think Minnesota is seeing what kind of versatility he can bring to the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

LOOKING AHEAD

A large contingent of fans from Slovenia were in attendance Wednesday — and more are coming Friday, when the Heat play host to the Dallas Mavericks. At last season’s Dallas-at-Miami game, more than 2,000 Slovenians were in attendance to watch their nation’s two best NBA players, Dragic and Dallas star Luka Doncic, go head-to-head.

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: At Orlando on Friday night.

Heat: Host Dallas on Friday night.

Trae Young blocks 7-foot Mo Bamba at rim (video)

Leave a comment

Trae Young might be the NBA’s worst defender.

He’s small (6-foot-1 with a 6-foot-3 wingspan). His athleticism is far from imposing. He also carries a massive load for the Hawks offensively, leaving little energy for defense.

But he still blocked 7-foot Magic center Mo Bamba at the rim.

Not a great moment for Bamba.

Joel Embiid leaves 76ers game with shoulder injury (video)

Leave a comment

Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons?

The debate has gained attention this season after the 76ers spent years retooling around their stars. The answer clearly isn’t neither. But that’s what Philadelphia now faces.

With Simmons already injured, Embiid got hurt in the 76ers’ game against the Cavaliers tonight.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Losing Embiid for an extended period would be a huge blow to Philadelphia, especially with Simmons already out. The 76ers (fifth place, half a game out of fourth) are right on the edge of getting home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Embiid had been playing so well lately. This is an especially tough time for a setback.

At least Philadelphia has depth to cope. Al Horford can easily slide from power forward to center. Tobias Harris might be better off at power forward than small forward, anyway. This is where Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks, acquired just before the trade deadline, come in handy as additional wing options. Kyle O'Quinn can also play behind Horford.

But the loss of talent is the biggest development, and there’s no overcoming that until Embiid and Simmons get healthy.

Zach LaVine: Trash talk directed at Dennis Schroder, not Bulls coach Jim Boylen

Leave a comment

During the Bulls’ loss to the Thunder yesterday, Zach LaVine appeared to say, “I have f—ing 40 points!”

Many assumed LaVine was snapping at Chicago coach Jim Boylen. But LaVine clarified his target was Oklahoma City guard Dennis Schroder.

Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

I take LaVine at his word.

Want to make a case LaVine dislikes Boylen? You’ll just have to point to all the other evidence.