Bulls

Bulls facing tough series against Hawks

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Bulls facing tough series against Hawks

Friday, April 29, 2011Posted: 4:04 p.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

While most of the so-called NBA experts are picking the Bulls to take care of Atlanta in 4 or 5 games, there are some real areas of concern when you analyze the match-ups.

First of all, Hawks' forward Josh Smith is one of the most versatile players in the league, capable of filling up a stat sheet like Scottie Pippen used to do. At 6-9, Smith blocks shots like a center, and runs the court like a guard. He's capable of putting up 25 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals, 5 assists and 5 blocks in an up-tempo game.

Against Orlando in the first round of the playoffs, the Hawks started a bigger front line with Jason Collins at center and Smith teaming with Al Horford at the forward spots. But Atlanta's best line-up is Horford at center, with Smith and Marvin Williams at the forwards. Smith is much too quick for Carlos Boozer to defend, and I'm not sure Tom Thibodeau would want to have Joakim Noah guarding a player with range out to the 3 point line.

If Atlanta goes small against the Bulls, Thibodeau might be forced to give more minutes to Taj Gibson, who has the best chance of matching up with Smith defensively. The Bulls might even go with a small line-up of their own, using Kyle Korver at small forward and Luol Deng at power forward.

The other issue is containing Horford, a 2-time All-Star, who had one of his best games of the season against his old college teammate, Noah, back in March. Horford is deceptively quick playing the center position, and is capable of driving past Noah for strong finishes at the rim. Noah and the Bulls did a much better job defensively against Horford in their 2 wins over Atlanta, but it's a match-up that will take on a lot of importance in the upcoming series.

Right now, the Hawks aren't sure about the status of Kirk Hinrich for the Conference semi-finals. Hinrich injured a hamstring muscle during the clinching win over Orlando, and had to be helped from the court. The Hawks don't know if he'll be able to play in Monday night's opening game, and they're not sure what he'll be able to provide throughout the series.

If Hinrich can't go, the Hawks lose their best defensive option against Derrick Rose. The other former Bulls' point guard, Jamal Crawford, is an excellent scorer, but one of the worst defensive players in the league. If the Hawks are forced to go with a tall back court of Crawford and All-Star Joe Johnson, they would probably have to put Johnson on Rose. Johnson is a strong defender, but at 6-7, he would have a tough time staying in front of the lightning-quick Rose.

On the other end, the Bulls will have to be physical against Johnson, using and Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer to keep him from driving into the paint, where he's tremendously effective scoring on jumpers and flip shots from 10 feet in. The Bulls have had a lot of success defending Johnson in the past, and his playoff history would suggest it's unlikely he'll come through with a series filled with high-scoring games.

One of the keys for the Bulls will be trying to establish Boozer in the post. He's coming off a couple of bad games in the Indiana series, and a painful "turf toe" injury. But he has the size and strength to get Smith in foul trouble if the Hawks go with their small line-up. Keep an eye on which coach is forced to adjust his line-up first. Will Thibodeau have to get Boozer out because he can't defend Smith, or will it work the other way around? That match-up could determine whether this series goes short or long.

Atlanta doesn't have any answers for Rose, but then again, who does? The soon-to-be-named M.V.P. is capable of blowing past any defender in a one-on-one situation, and he can also elevate over the Hawks' interior defenders, with the exception of Smith. With Rose getting into the paint, Atlanta's big men will be forced to help, and that should set up plenty of easy baskets for Noah, Boozer, Gibson and Deng.

The Hawks' best hope of extending the series is the 3 point line. Johnson, Crawford, Williams and Hinrich are streaky, but dangerous from beyond the arc. If they start draining 3 balls, the Bulls will be forced to extend their defense, creating more opportunities for Horford and Smith inside.

The Bulls "bench mob" didn't play to its usual level against Indiana, but they should have the advantage against an Atlanta team that normally doesn't get much production from anyone on the 2nd unit besides Crawford. And, when it comes to coaching, give Thibodeau and his staff a huge edge over 1st year Atlanta head coach Larry Drew.

I'm picking the Bulls to win the series in 6 games, but it might only go 5 if Hinrich is out for an extended period, or Atlanta's streaky outside shooters go cold. What do you think? Please post your comments in the section below. I'll see you at the United Center Monday night. We'll be doing SportsNet Central near Gate 3 at 6:30.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.

No, Zach LaVine wasn't ranting at Jim Boylen in latest viral video

No, Zach LaVine wasn't ranting at Jim Boylen in latest viral video

In the final moments of a hard-fought 124-122 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night, Zach LaVine was caught on camera saying something to the effect of, "I've got 40 [expletive] points."

LaVine has been broadcast multiple times this season appearing to exhibit expasperation over late-game timeouts called by Jim Boylen, so some segments of NBA Twitter took this as another show of frustration towards the Bulls' head coach. But it seems that's not the case.

According to reporting by Eric Woodyard of ESPN, LaVine was merely jawing back and forth with Thunder guard Dennis Schröder. Common practice in a closely-contested game.

The report quotes LaVine, himself.

"You get into the heat of the battle and between players when you guys are talking, you talk smack sometimes, right? And that's all it was," LaVine told Woodyard. "We were still down. Dude was talking a little mess to me and I just let him know 'Look, I've got 40, I don't know why you're talking to me.

"I don't know why they said they thought I was talking to Jim but it was just people being competitive in the game talking."

In the play following the clip, LaVine drilled a pull-up 3-pointer from the logo for his 41st points of the night. It was LaVine's sixth 40-point game of the season, but despite his brilliance, the Bulls dropped to 20-39 and 1-9 in their last ten games with the defeat. A tale as old as time.

It's obviously been an up-and-down season for the Bulls, but consider this 'controversy' dead on arrival.

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Which team will emerge as Bucks biggest threat in the East?

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USA Today

Which team will emerge as Bucks biggest threat in the East?

With all the attention given to the battle for supremacy in Los Angeles between the Lakers’ superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the Clippers’ tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, plus the spectacular debut seasons for Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, Milwaukee’s march to the NBA’s best regular season record for the second straight year has gone largely unnoticed.

The Bucks won their 50th game Tuesday night in Toronto, rallying to beat the defending NBA champs one night after surviving an overtime battle in Washington. Milwaukee has already clinched a playoff spot in the East and currently holds an eight-game lead over the Raptors for home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

We all remember what happened last season when the Bucks won the first two games of the conference finals against Toronto in Milwaukee, then saw their season come crashing to a close by dropping the next four. Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse devised a system to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the lane, and the Bucks were lost when the MVP couldn’t carry the offense as he had done all season.

So, which team will pose the biggest threat to the Bucks in the East this year?

Toronto has been the hottest team in the conference over the last six weeks, winning 17 of their last 19 games. Nurse has done an excellent job of adjusting his rotation to fill in for the extended injury absences of Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and top reserve Norman Powell.

Fourth year guard Fred VanVleet and third year forward O.G. Anunoby are having their best seasons, and Raptors’ President of Basketball operations Masai Ujiri continues to find and develop young prospects that went ignored by the rest of the league. The latest examples are young big man Chris Boucher and versatile wing Terence Davis, who have been key members of the rotation during the current hot streak.

The Raptors have the length up front to give Antetokounmpo problems in a seven-game series, and they certainly don’t fear the Bucks after beating them in the conference finals last spring. Yes, Kawhi Leonard has moved on, but Siakam quickly took over Leonard’s role as an All-Star caliber two-way wing, averaging 23.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. If the Raptors are 100% healthy for the playoffs, they will be a tough out.

Philadelphia was supposed to emerge as a title contender this season after adding Al Horford in free agency to join Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, giving the 76ers the length to challenge Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. But Horford and Embiid have not played well together and now Simmons is expected to be out for multiple weeks because of a nerve impingement in his back. It’s possible the Sixers will get things together by the start of the playoffs, but given their 9-20 road record, it’s hard to imagine them winning a series without home court advantage.

Miami had been the talk of the league for the first half of the season, but the Heat has hit a bit of a road bump lately, dropping six of their last eight games. Pat Riley made a deal at the deadline, giving up former lottery pick Justise Winslow to acquire veteran Andre Iguodala from Memphis, but it’s hard to say how much Iguodala has left in the tank at 36 after all those extended playoff runs with Golden State.

Jimmy Butler will continue to provide scoring and demand maximum effort from the young players on the Heat roster, but it doesn’t look like the Heat have the experience or scoring depth to be labeled a serious contender. Right now, they would have to be considered the underdog in a 4-5 match-up against Philadelphia, with the winner having to face Milwaukee in the conference semi-finals. Not exactly the best path for playoff success.

That leaves the Celtics, who got drummed out of the playoffs by Milwaukee in five games last season. In case you haven’t been watching Boston lately, third year forward Jayson Tatum is making the jump to elite status. Tatum is averaging 30.3 points a game over his last ten, including a 41-point effort against LeBron and the Lakers Sunday, and a 36-point performance in a win at Portland on Tuesday, which included a career high eight 3-pointers in 12 attempts.

Tatum’s emergence gives Boston a clear-cut number one scoring option to match up against Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in a potential conference final. Fourth year swingman Jaylen Brown is also enjoying a breakout season, increasing his scoring average by over seven points from a year ago to 20.4, while All-Star guard Kemba Walker has provided stability and leadership at the point, something that was sorely lacking during Kyrie Irving’s tumultuous two seasons in Boston.

Gordon Hayward is 100% healthy again and playing at high level, while defensive specialist Marcus Smart has suddenly emerged as a reliable 3-point threat. Sure, the Celtics have some questions in the middle, where Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter aren’t exactly defensive stalwarts. But second year center Robert Williams is expected to return from a hip injury soon and could emerge as the shot blocker/rebounder the C’s need to go up against Giannis and the Lopez twins.

We’re still about seven weeks away from the start of the playoffs but based on Boston’s scoring depth and the emergence of Tatum as a go-to option late in games, I would give the Celtics a slight edge over Toronto as the Bucks’ top challenger in the East. 

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