Trans. Apr 19 10:35 ET (Apr 19 10:35 ET ) Joakim Noah issued a statement through the Bulls about the passing of his mentor, Tyrone Green, a respected basketball coach in New York City. Upon arriving in New York from France, Noah was coached by Green and to this day, the All-Star center still gives credit to the coach, who occasionally visited the United Center to watch Bulls games, for his development. Noah missed Friday's Bulls practice to travel to New York, but returned to Chicago for Saturday's session at the Berto Center.
The Scoop:Noah will be ready for the Bulls' playoff opener vs. Washington on Sunday, which Chicago is heavily favored to win. Wizards center Marcin Gortat averaged 15.4 points and 10.8 rebounds after the All-Star break, but he's unlikely to have so much success while facing Noah on a nightly basis.
The response Joakim Noah had for John Wall, after he made an incredible circus shot, said it all. "That's some real bullshit you hit, though," Noah said with a smile as he walked past the Wizards' locker room Jan. 17. It marked the Wizards' second win in a row. The Bulls had traded Luol Deng two weeks earlier but were on a hot streak.
Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix joined Friday's edition of SportsTalk Live to discuss a number of NBA topics, including the Bulls-Wizards matchup, Finals predictions and a guess on where impending free agent Carmelo Anthony may be playing next season. How far the Bulls can advance: "I think the Bulls are the ultimate wildcard out there. I think the evolution of Joakim Noah this yer has made them a little bit more dangerous offensively and certainly Jimmy Butler's development on both sides of the ball is a step in the right direction." Wizards happy to be playing Bulls: "There's a lot of confidence in that Washington locker room about what they can do against the Bulls.
The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) when the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason.
Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test
If you’ve been removed, understand the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards have done exactly as they’ve been told. Even if their fans should be a little uneasy about where each team is at.
Washington’s financial and future salary-cap fixture isn’t exactly a Knicks-styled nightmare, but it did give up just about all its assets to cash in on the absolute top potential of this current lot. It’s made the playoffs – all right! well earned! – but this was a squad built to move into the first or possibly second round of the playoffs and little else. The team has benefitted, for once, from relatively good health, with the possible exception of big man Nene, who has returned to the rotation and factors to be a huge part of the team’s playoff run.
The Randy Wittman-led squad sustained the defensive work last year’s lottery bangers turned in during the second half of the season, the group covers angles well and talks to each other, and despite some individual holes the group as a moving outfit is to be feared on that end. The offense remains comparatively lacking, but John Wall is a gorgeous speedster in the open court, flying off defensive rebound caroms and hand-offs, Trevor Ariza turned in a throwback year, and Marcin Gortat has been exactly as advertised as a pick-and-dive big man. Not bad for a center who didn’t even get to share a training camp with his new teammates.
Gortat became a Wizard at the expense of a first-round pick, a last-ditch move by longtime general manager Ernie Grunfeld in an attempt to finally make the playoffs on John Wall’s back. Washington fitfully dotted over and below the .500 mark for the better part of the pre-All-Star run, but they enter the postseason having won 44 games – a few ticks above what was reasonably hoped for even after the deal for Gortat.
There are cracks, befitting your typical Eastern squad. For a group full of athletes, led by a young backcourt featuring Wall and second-year guard Bradley Beal, Washington rarely gets to the free-throw line. Wall is the league’s absolute best in spotting shooters in the corner for a 3-point shot, a devastatingly efficient look at the hoop, but the Wittman-inspired offense still relies far too much on middling mid-range 2-point jumpers.
The team is right where it hoped to be, for better or (future) worse. The same can’t be said about the Bulls, even if the team also comes straight out of central casting.
A solid offseason and undefeated exhibition season led many to rightfully conclude Chicago would return to the ranks of championship contenders entering 2013-14. A healthy and springy Derrick Rose was understandably unsure and visually a step slow to start the season, though. The team also was used to Joakim Noah initiating possessions from the high post, and Noah himself needed most of October and November to return to game shape following a groin injury. The result was a disastrous start to the year, even with Rose on board.
Rose went down with a meniscus tear just 11 games into Chicago’s season, and with Noah still on the mend, the group struggled to a 12-18 start. Luol Deng was traded for no 2014 on-court compensation just after New Year, and the team looked like a lottery loser just two months after hearing championship whispers. Coach Tom Thibodeau then moved a healthier Noah to the elbow on offense, the team set to clicking on both sides of the ball, and Chicago ended up winning 34 of 50 games following the Deng trade.
They talk, they sweat, they move the ball offensively and they don’t give up. Everything you expected in October, just without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng on board.
That isn’t to say the regular season was a waste for both teams. Both fan bases enjoyed the highest of highs when following either squad. Rather, this is just to credit two helplessly flawed but professional and, at times, inspiring rosters, two that should do their cities proud this spring. This series won’t be pretty. These are two defenses that will make sure of that much, but these games should be close, and the actually will be wonderfully brutal at times.
You can count on such things from these two teams.
Prediction: Bulls in 6.
Dan Devine's One Big Question
Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over.
Can Nene give the Wizards' frontcourt the heft and versatility to pull the upset?
The Wizards enter this series as underdogs, but while the 18-point beating they suffered at Verizon Center two weeks back is freshest in our minds, Washington actually took two out of three from Chicago this season. There were several common threads in the Wizards' wins. John Wall was awesome, averaging 21 points, nine assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. Martell Webster cashed in on the rare 3-point looks that Chicago's arc-choking defense allowed, going 6 for 9 from deep in the two meetings. And then there was Nene, Washington's hulking, often injured and, as a result, often overlooked power forward, getting brutal and banging bodies with the Bulls' bigs.
Washington's defense operates at an entirely different level when Nene's on the floor. Last year, the Wizards gave up nearly four more points per 100 possessions without the big Brazilian than with him, and shut down opposing offenses at a level surpassed by only the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies with Nene in the middle. The difference has been even more pronounced this season, with the Wizards allowing 104.4 points per 100 possessions (which would've ranked 16th among 30 NBA teams over the course of the full season, between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers) when Nene sits, and just 99.2 points-per-100 (which would again be good for third, behind only the Pacers and Bulls) when he plays.
Opponents have taken a smaller share of their overall shots in the paint with Nene there than when he sits, which makes sense, because hurtling into a 6-foot-11, 260-pound bull isn't especially appetizing. They've made a lower percentage of the ones they do take, too, which stands to reason, since this particular bull -- while never a huge shot-blocking force -- is nimble enough to be able to track trespassing guards, contest their tries and push them into more difficult shots.
With Nene on the court during their two losses to the Wizards, the Bulls took more midrange jumpers than they did shots in the paint. For a team like Chicago that struggles so mightily to score -- they were one of just four teams to average less than one point per possession this year, and only the lottery-bound Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers had more punchless offenses -- and relies so heavily on creating opportunities through precise interior passing and the high-post orchestration of Joakim Noah, walling off the paint can make the process of trying to score enough to win excruciating.
Wizards opponents have also taken fewer 3-pointers, and made them less frequently, with Nene in the mix than out of it, owing in part to his gifts as a pick-and-roll defender. As Bullets Forever's Mike Prada notes, Nene's bulk-belying footwork and ability to guide and redirect ball-handlers coming around screens helps keep the structural integrity of the Wizards' defense intact, allowing wing defenders like Webster and Trevor Ariza to stay a step closer to their marks on the perimeter without having to double-team or make hurried rotations to prevent easy baskets, which is precisely when kickouts for open 3-point shots tend to happen.
Chicago's far from a great pick-and-roll team, ranking 17th in the l