NBA

At best, the first round of the NBA playoffs were something to switch to during Cubs game commercials, and at worst they were straight trash. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul got a couples MRI, Stanley Johnson lost him mind, and Steph Curry channeled his inner Derrick Rose when he returned from an ankle injury only to SLIP ON A WET SPOT and sprain his MCL one half of basketball later. While we did see two oddly competitive game 7s, I don’t think anyone will look back on basketball in April fondly, except maybe Thibs.  So with that, round 1 is behind us and lets never speak of it again. We’re now into round 2 where two series may actually turn out to be competitive, and at least all of the teams that are still competing have a compelling reason to win, regardless of how you (or I) may dislike some of them (Cleveland).

Starting in the Eastern Conference, Toronto is fresh off their 2nd playoff series win in the franchise’s 21 year history, and ready to take on the Miami Heat on 48 hours rest. Both teams will go into Tuesday night’s game with nothing more than a shootaround to prepare so I would imagine the play will be as sloppy and bizarre as any in the teams’ round 1 match ups. Miami’s playoff experience, star power and hot shooting will likely move them on to the Conference Finals, but if Toronto’s DeRozan and Lowry can get back up to their regular season scoring numbers, they’ll have a shot.

On the West Coast, the Spurs/Thunder match up tips off the part of the NBA playoffs where you wonder why they even televise games in Atlanta or Toronto, when Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green are playing basketball a few thousand miles away. But Game 1 did not turn out to be the elite competition we had hoped. Instead, the Spurs played ‘as good as it gets’, executing flawlessly on the offensive side, and throwing defender after defender at Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, rushing and contesting not just shots, but steps. Before Monday night, I figured the Spurs (probably) wouldn’t score 73 in the first half of every game this series but that we might have to endure an under-achieving Oklahoma City team fall in less than 7 games, with their inexperienced rotation pushing Durant over the edge and out of town.  While I was preparing myself to adjust perspective and appreciate the impeccable and dominant Spurs for as long as they’re around, OKC made it interesting with a last second win over San Antonio on Monday, evening the series and reminding us just how fun the NBA Playoffs can be.

And then there’s Lebron. And the inevitable question – can he be stopped? Answer: No. Not in the Eastern conference. The Cavs have a 9 game post-season winning streak against the Atlanta Hawks which is the 2nd longest active streak in the league, coming up short only to the Cavs 12 game run over Detroit who they just swept. They may have to weather a few storms here and there from Al Horford, Jeff Teague and a Hawks team who won’t roll over as easily as last year, but in the end, we’ll still be talking about Lebron, the health of his teammates and their chemistry with the coach 2 weeks from now when they’re headed to South Beach or the great white North for LBJ’s 6th straight Eastern Conference Finals.

Last but certainly not least, prayers up for Steph. He’s poised to return in Game 3 of Warriors/Blazers, but his team is doing just fine without him. They obliterated the Blazers in Game 1 behind the smothering defense of fellow splash brother Klay Thompson, and a triple double from the pride of Saginaw, Draymond Green. They don’t need Steph this series, but they’ll want to be firing on all cylinders when they head to the Conference Finals, so rest between games 2 and 3 can’t come soon enough for the winners of 73 regular season games.

So that’s round 2 in a nutshell.    The playoffs are on the up and up, and the TNT crew is in post-season form. It’s way overdue but it’s here and it’s fleeting, so just like Chicago Summer, enjoy it while it lasts.

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The start of Spring means the NBA playoffs are around the corner.  This should be good news all around for basketball fans, if you’re like me and completely bored of an even more uneventful NBA regular season than what is to be expected.  Yes, Chef Curry is still cookin, Kobe is still retiring, Lebron is still mad, George Karl is still in Sacramento, and the Spurs are still good.  The story lines have remained the same across the league since Halloween, and aside from a few Boogie tirades, Lebron social media standoffs and Blake Griffin blackouts, this season has lacked the high stakes and high drama we need to come from 7 games between Golden State and San Antonio, and the possibility of Boston, Miami or Toronto knocking off a tumultuous team in Cleveland.

With the postseason in view, the next few weeks aren’t only important to those 16 teams who will see the court in mid-April, but also to the organizations who are already looking toward next year, or have been for months.  NBA tank-a-thon 2016 is in full effect in Philly, LA and Phoenix, but come June 23rd, will it even matter? There’s a significant yet rarely discussed major detail in the tanking discussion – losing the most games rarely gets teams the coveted number one draft slot they so desperately want out of the draft “lottery.”

To be transparent, I support about 90% of conspiracies I hear about in general, and fully believe that there is no NBA Draft Lottery for the top 3 picks.  Those picks are bestowed upon the teams selected by Adam Silver, and David Stern before him, in order to keep parity in the NBA to the best of their ability while maximizing revenue and dominance in the major markets.  While I know this is constantly debated and there is much evidence to the contrary, I don’t really care to hear it, and basically operate under the assumption that this is fact.

That aside, it’s also important to note that the 2016 draft class is very shallow with a significant talent drop off after the first two picks – likely Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram – and there is abundant skepticism as to whether either of them will become a franchise, super star, foundational leader wherever they end up.  In some ways that makes getting a top 2 pick even more significant than in other years, but on the other hand, maybe it’s best for teams not to cash in their good karma in what might be a wasted year.

With that in mind, who has the best chance of locking up the draft’s top pick?  Let’s see…

If they were to show the draft balls on TV, as it stands now, Philadelphia and their impressive 9-64 record have the largest claim to the #1 pick with a 25% chance of opening their envelope (do they still do envelopes?) last.  They are in such desperate need of that franchise player to round out their squad of top picks in Joel Embid and Jahlil Okafor if they can ever stay healthy, and probably should be rewarded for what has been just an epic tank job, and potentially their best work to date.  But I just don’t see it.  They’re going to get a top 3 pick given that they have a 64.3% chance of landing on the medal stand, but the #2 spot seems like a better place for the Sixers so they don’t have to make the Simmons or Ingram decision, and can just play the hand they’re dealt.

That 9-64 record in Philly is particularly remarkable this year given that they have 7 more losses than even the Los Angeles Lakers.  The Lakers have been nothing short of terrible, and it comes at an optimal time when LA would have to give up their first round pick to Philly if it fell outside of the top 3.  Instead, the Lakers have a 55.8% chance of keeping their pick, and a 19.9% chance of it landing at #1, making it less discernible when Silver selects them to be the next and forever home of Ben Simmons, the kind of star that LA requires, forming an up-and-coming big 3 with D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle.

And there’s no one that would hate that more than Boston.  But Boston is in a weird spot with this year’s draft.  They’re seemingly in an incredible spot given that they have Brooklyn’s pick, and the 4th best odds of landing in the #1 spot, at a time when they’re urgently in need of a star to put them over the top.  On the flip side, their team is young but not that young and they’re actually a contender in the East given the right match up.  The star they need has to contribute now, not in a few years when their current core is on the decline.   If Silver bestowed #1 on the Celtics, it might make the most sense to complete some type of blockbuster trade that gets Boston star power this year.  But having the #1 spot go to the highest bidder doesn’t sound like the best thing for the NBA.  Boston and everyone else would be better off if they were to land #3, grab a role player who can help win some games, and continue their efforts to bring KD, Kevin Love or Boogie to the City on a Hill.

So that’s my prediction for this year’s “lottery” – Lakers, Sixers, Celtics (via Brooklyn) 1,2,3.  Minnesota’s too small for Silver to let them rise to dominance with Wiggins, Towns, LaVine AND Simmons, and the Bulls’ chances are too small at 0.5% to pull another Derrick Rose scenario so blatantly.  But there are still 3 weeks left in the season and anything can happen.  In the meantime, you can follow tank-a-thon 2016 here to stay updated on the odds across the bottom of the league.

And for the record, I know videos like this exist; I just choose to ignore them.

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Alright my fellow Bulls fans, prostate I know this hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for Chicago and many of you have probably given up altogether (I get it, here it’s no fun watching your favorite team suffer through losses), but it may get uglier as the Bulls attempt to claw their way back up the standings. Get ready for a bumpy ride.

Lets start with the good. Jimmy Butler who had missed 11 games with a knee strain returned on Saturday and helped the Bulls defeat the Houston Rockets at home. Buckets looked good, just serving up defense and making some beautiful baskets. Then this week, his knee weirdly swelled up on him and he had to go make a special visit to some guy named Doctor Andrews to get a second opinion on what’s going on. Luckily, Jimmy got the all clear by a second doc so hopefully he should be back in the lineup soon.

Next up on the agenda, Doug McDermott is finding a bit of a rhythm in his sophomore season. Things looked a bit shaky for McBuckets earlier this year. He had struggled to find minutes under old head coach Tom Thibodeau in his rookie season and was expected to really thrive under offensive minded Hoiberg. Until, he didn’t. In February, Dougie had his absolute worst showing of his professional career against the Cavaliers, but has seemingly used that performance to harness some kind of mojo. The following night he put up a career high 30-points over the Toronto Raptors. He admitted he’s just too tough of a critic on himself.

I’m really hard on myself. That can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. I think in college it’s a good thing because you have a week between your next game. In the NBA, you have a game, and then you have another game the next day. So if you’re constantly down on yourself, being mad about a play the night before, it’s going to affect the way you play the next night. So I kind of just let some things go, focus on the moment and just keep moving forward.

Seems like our guy just needed a bit of a confidence boost. Just keep doing what your doing Doug; attack the rim, make those mid-range shots, take more than just 3-point-shots and get aggressive.

Now, on to the UGLY. So the Bulls are currently holding onto the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and the Detroit Pistons are hot on our trail. Normally, I would say “So what, we’ve got this,” but this season has been rough.

The schedule ahead isn’t necessarily the easiest either and Chicago has no room for stingy losses. The Bulls face the Spurs in San Antonio tonight and then head home to take on the Heat on Friday in back-to-back games. The Spurs are sneaky good, I swear there’s a fountain of youth Coach Popovich keeps for his guys, and have gone under the radar in the West with all the hub-bub about the Golden State Warriors. The Spurs are 30-0 at home too people. So two back-to-back tough opponents, then the Bulls still have match-ups with the Pacers, Pistons, Rockets, and Cavs left on the schedule. Not to mention, two months worth of games that could result in more injuries. It’s going to be a tough few months friends. I would say, don’t hold your breath for a crazy playoff run, but the Bulls could always surprise us.

 

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The reigning champion Golden State Warriors have been rolling through the NBA with a whole lot of wins. For much of this season, and the Warriors have been compared to the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls who also happened to have an incredible season during their reign as the champs. One could say the Warriors are running with the Bulls. Today, pharm the Warriors have the chance to tie the Chicago Bulls record of 44 straight wins at home.

How do the Warriors compare to the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls? Through 59 games Golden State is sitting at 54-5 and the ’95-’96 Bulls were 53-6.

During the Bulls iconic season, they accomplished what no team had done before, or has been able to since, but the Warriors are knocking on their record-setting door.

Chicago won 18 games in a row during one stretch of the 1995-1996 season. They also led the league in scoring (105.2 points per game), ranked third in defense, lost just two home games all season and won more road games (33) than any team in NBA history. RESPECT. Come playoffs, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen lost just one game in their road to the finals and ended up beating the Seattle SuperSonics for the title.

This season, the Golden State Warriors started with a 24-0 run. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are hotter than hot and their team is in the hunt for a 73-win season.

So what do we think? Will the Warriors tie the Bulls record? It will be no easy feat as their opponent is the OKC Thunder – who just lost to Golden State by a mid-court, buzzer-beater in OT from Steph Curry in Oklahoma City. Let’s just say, tonight’s game will be entertaining to say the least (something Bulls fans aren’t currently able to enjoy). Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are thirsty for a win.

Despite all their success in the recent years, Steph Curry’s MVP award and countless three-pointers the Warriors don’t necessarily get the respect they deserve.  None of the contestants on Jeopardy could identify the team from their logo…I say it adds more fuel to the Golden State fire.

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The NBA All Star break couldn’t come soon enough for Bulls fans (Pau Gasol just missed a layup as I write this), drugstore but for those whose teams are rolling this time of year, a weekend of outlandish events, more focused on Kevin Hart and over the top fashion than basketball, is not always welcome.  Lucky for them, despite taking the game north of the border to -8 degree Toronto temperatures, All-Star Saturday night delivered for everyone.  The big stars were still missing from the court, but Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon almost made us forget about the team dunk format of 2014 by putting on a true dunk contest reminiscent of the old school battles that featured the likes of Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins.

In the last 5 years, the dunk contest has lost the luster of those late 80s battles and the nostalgia of Vince Carter‘s prolific performances by serving up sub par dunks from role players while the All-Stars sat in the stands with their kids stealing most of the attention.  But this year,  Minnesota’s LaVine and Orlando’s Gordon took the NBA’s ultimate power move to new heights by pushing each other to perfect scores, round after round, forcing dunks even they had never seen or tried before.  LaVine and Gordon went beyond high flying dunks and 360s to new and improved moves like grabbing the ball from Stuff the Magic mascot while he spun on a hover board.

While LaVine came out victorious after perfect scores forced a bonus round, the most reality-defying dunk of the night came from Gordon when he leaped over Stuff (my second favorite mascot to Benny the Bull), grabbing the ball off of the pink wings on the side of his head, tucked his legs to a fully seated position and pulled the ball under them before slamming it down.

It’s hard to believe that didn’t seal the deal, but LaVine finally ended the night and took home the trophy with a spur of the moment decision to try a windmill dunk from the free throw line that he’d never even seen himself do.

The 2016 All-Star Weekend was a major stop of the Kobe Bryant retirement tour, with Saturday’s dunk contest coming 19 years after Kobe won the event in 1997.  Earlier in All-Star Saturday, Bryant expressed displeasure with the state of the contest, longing for the days when the NBA’s biggest stars participated.  And he wasn’t wrong, with the last All-Star caliber player to participate in a true dunk contest (disregarding whatever the NBA tried to do with the team format in 2014) being Blake Griffin in 2011 who won amid controversy that the league rigged the event to allow him and Kia, a major NBA sponsor, to win when he jumped over the hood of the automaker’s sedan.  And don’t ever forget that Lebron James has never shown his face on the court in the Dunk Contest for fear of injury or failure.

Nevertheless, the big stars weren’t necessary on Saturday, just the best dunkers, who were dedicated to bringing back an NBA tent-pole event by paying homage to those who brought it to prestige in the first place.  Zach LaVine said he came back in 2016 to defend his 2015 Slam Dunk title as a nod to the days when stars like Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins would compete year after year.  Aaron Gordon, born in 1995, still managed to throw it back to a staple Wilkins move from the late 80s, with a between the legs reverse dunk in an early round.

Dominique Wilkins has been another outspoken critic of the dunk contest in recent years, so if he says it, it goes…

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President may be a bit extreme, doctor but Jimmy Butler is absolutely running this year’s Chicago Bulls team. I do feel like we, ask the fans, viagra owe the guy an apology. He was awarded a spot on the 2016 All-Star roster, but he didn’t make a starting slot because we didn’t give the man enough votes! We failed ya Jimmy. Here is your 2016 Eastern Conference All-Star lineup.

Starters:
Lebron James (Cavaliers, Forward)
Paul George (Pacers, Forward)
Carmelo Anthony (Knicks, Forward)
Dwyane Wade (Head, Guard)
Kyle Lowry (Raptors, Guard)

Bench:
Jimmy Butler (Chicago, Guard/Forward)
DeMar DeRozan (Raports, Guard)
Paul Millsap (Hawks, Forward)
Andre Drummond (Pistons, Center)
Chris Bosh (Heat, Forward)
John Wall (Wizards, Guard)
Isaiah Thomas (Celtics, Guard)

Despite our lack of NBA All-Star votes, Jimmy will yet again get to showcase his talents among the best of the best in Toronto on February 14th.  He’s our do-it-all player leading the entire league in minutes played per game (38.3 minutes) – he’s earned it. He’s the kind of guy who puts in work on both ends of the court, racking up around 2.74 miles a game. If you’d like to whip out your handy dandy calculator 47 games at 2.74 miles is literally just under 5 full marathons. Jimmy isn’t messing around.

He’s also becoming a stand-out leader off the court. He had a sit-down with Derrick Rose last Wednesday to make sure the two stars weren’t just coexisting on the team, but rather playing to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The following day the Bulls spanked the Los Angeles Lakers. Mission accomplished.

We had a long conversation. That’s the type of guys that we now are. Just checking in, wanting each other to be successful. Making sure we’re both healthy because as a backcourt, it’s important that we’re both doing OK and on the same page – Jimmy Butler, Chicago Sun Times

Now, don’t get me wrong. One sit down doesn’t solve all the Bulls problems, but two stars working towards a better relationship is definitely a plus. I can’t imagine it’s easy for Derrick to know he is no longer the best player on the team and no has to share his limelight with a kid drafted way late from Marquette.  Butler went as far to say he’d like to train with Rose over the off-season and take his “camp-Jimmy” to Rose wherever he likes to train with his family nearby. Whatever Jimmy’s been doing during the offseason has worked for his game, couldn’t hurt Derrick to jump on the Butler-bandwagon.

Something noteworthly that Jimmy mentioned in his interview with the Sun Times last week was that he believed that Rose would also be a part of the Bulls team for many years moving forward. Seems very interesting since Rose will be an unrestricted free agent after next season. Did Jimmy accidentally give us a look into the future?

One thing is clear, Jimmy is trying to make the most out of what he’s got to get our Bulls more wins. Thank you, Mr. Buckets.

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