Trans. Apr 18 2:42 ET (Apr 18 2:42 ET ) Taj Gibson flashed back to the grueling workouts in the searing Southern California heat last summer. There he was with Derrick Rose, running and jumping and trying to take his game to another level for the Chicago Bulls while their superstar point guard worked his way back from a left knee injury. It was intense,'' Gibson said. The Bulls won 48 games to grab the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and homecourt advantage in their first-round series against the Washington Wizards despite some big obstacles.
Taj Gibson flashed back to the grueling workouts in the searing Southern California heat last summer. There he was with Derrick Rose, running and jumping and trying to take his game to another level for the Chicago Bulls while their superstar point guard worked his way back from a left knee injury. ''It was intense,'' Gibson said. The Bulls won 48 games to grab the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and homecourt advantage in their first-round series against the Washington Wizards despite some big obstacles.
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
As evidenced by Game 1 of the 2012 playoffs, the regular season has no bearing on the postseason. The Bulls are obviously well aware of that fact, but after the adversity they dealt with during the campaign namely, Derrick Roses season-ending knee injury in November and Januarys trade of Luol Deng to Cleveland they have a unique perspective. We have a great opportunity and now its up to us to make the most of the opportunity that we have, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained.
It's not the way the Chicago Bulls mapped it out at the start of the season. But here they are, holding the fourth seed and hosting John Wall and the Washington Wizards in Game 1 of their first-round series Sunday after going 48-34. They lead the Eastern Conference with 36 wins since Jan. 1 even though they don't have a player averaging 15 points, and they came together right when they looked as though they might be ripe for a meltdown. That's not bad considering Derrick Rose's derailed comeback and the trade of Luol Deng to Cleveland.
LeBron James' jersey remains the most popular in the NBA. The league announced Thursday that the Miami Heat star topped the list of jersey sales in the NBA for the sixth time. With teammate Dwyane Wade - whose jersey number hasn't changed in 11 years - at No. 7, the Heat also had the top spot on the team-merchandise sales list. ''Thanks so much to all that 'Strive for Greatness.''' Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City is No. 2 on the list, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, Chicago's Derrick Rose, Golden State's Stephen Curry and New York's Carmelo Anthony.
BOSTON -- Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman likes the way his team reacted down the stretch and is playing heading into the franchise's first visit to the playoffs since 2008. The Wizards, 118-102 winners over the Boston Celtics in Wednesday night's regular season finale, take a four-game winning streak into Sunday night's playoff opener at Chicago -- and were 8-3 in their last 11 games to earn the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. "I think we went 7-3 the last 10, four in a row, that's the way you want to finish," Wittman said after his team passed the Brooklyn Nets on the final night to set up the running with the Bulls. Asked about Chicago, still more than competitive even without star guard Derrick Rose, Wittman said, "We've played this team the last two years extremely well.
There's no question Joakim Noah has the intangibles to earn a spot on the All-NBA First Team at center. He's willed the Bulls to win after losing Derrick Rose to injury and Luol Deng to a trade with the Cavaliers.
The Scoop: None.
Apr 15 7:04 ET
News (various sources)
[WATCH] Bulls Fever: Getting you ready for the playoffs (Comcast SportsNet Chicago) (1 Day Ago | courtesy: Comcast SportsNet Chicago) The Bulls and Wizards will square off in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs on Sunday, and we've got all your coverage on Comcast SportsNet. Game 1 coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski and Will Perdue. And make sure to stay with us after the contest for Bulls Postgame Live, where Mark and Will will provide analysis, highlights and reaction from Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the Bulls. More...