NBA Finals: Cavs-Dubs should deliver after lackluster playoffs


NBA Finals: Cavs-Dubs should deliver after lackluster playoffs

Let’s be honest, the NBA Playoffs have failed to deliver the excitement we all expected back in April. Outside of the San Antonio-Clippers & Clippers-Houston matchups, most of the series have been one-sided, with the top two seeds advancing to each conference finals.

Atlanta won 60 games during the regular season to finish with the best record in the East, but like many of us predicted the Hawks’ jump-shooting offense was no match for LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Sure, the Hawks were weakened by injuries to DeMarre Carroll and Kyle Korver early in the series, but that’s still no excuse for getting swept by a Cleveland team that was playing without Kevin Love, and only had a limited Kyrie Irving for two games.

The story wasn’t much better out West, with Stephen Curry and the Warriors dominating Houston in five games. Curry suffered a head contusion after a scary fall in Game 4, and his fellow Splash Brother, Klay Thompson suffered a concussion after taking a knee to the head from Trevor Ariza in Game 5. Fortunately, both players had over a week to recuperate, so we should see the Warriors at full strength in the Finals.

So, which team has the edge? Golden State steamrolled through the regular season with an NBA-best 67 wins, while Cleveland had to go through a feeling-out period with James, Irving and Love playing together for the first time under rookie head coach David Blatt. The Cavs started out 19-20, but finished strong to earn the No. 2 seed in the East. A season-ending injury to Love in Round 1 of the playoffs against Boston could have derailed Cleveland’s title hopes, but they bounced back to beat the Bulls in six and then sweep Atlanta, thanks in large part to the outstanding play of Knicks’ castoffs, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.

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The key for Golden State in the Finals will be finding a way to keep James from getting into the paint to score on his own or kick the ball out to wide open 3-point shooters. Smith has been on his best behavior and burying the triple during these playoffs, including 47 percent from beyond the arc against Atlanta, and outside of James, he’ll be the main focus of the Warriors’ defense in this series.

Golden State is known for its offensive firepower under Steve Kerr and top assistant Alvin Gentry, who was recently hired as the new head coach in New Orleans. But the Warriors are also among the league’s top ranked defensive teams, and they’ll be able to throw a series of long-armed, active defenders at LeBron in Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala. Big Ten fans know all about Green’s defensive tenacity and leadership skills from his days at Michigan State, and he finished second to the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler for Most Improved Player honors while being voted to the All-Defensive first team this past season. Barnes is extremely quick with good leaping ability, while Iguodala is a known commodity as one of the league’s best perimeter defenders and is coming off a great performance against James Harden in the Conference Finals, helping to force him into 12 turnovers in the decisive Game 5.

Outside of James’ playmaking ability and brute strength, and the 3-point shooting of Smith, Shumpert and Irving, the Warriors biggest concern defensively will be keeping Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov off the offensive boards. Thompson was a terror on the boards against the Bulls and Hawks, and he’s averaging four offensive rebounds per game in the playoffs. His size and relentless energy could pose problems for a Golden State team that’s lacking in size behind starting center Andrew Bogut.

The Warriors will get frontcourt reserve Marreese Speights back from a calf injury for the Finals, and his size and outside shooting ability should be a nice addition to Kerr’s bench. But keeping Bogut out of foul trouble will be important to Golden State’s success in the series, since he’s been one of the best rim protectors so far in the playoffs.

From the Cavs’ perspective, they’ll have to find the best defensive matchups against the Splash Brothers. It will be next impossible for James to guard Thompson or Curry for 40-plus minutes, while also initiating the offense and being the primary scorer. James seems almost super-human when it comes to his strength and endurance, but he is in his 12th season in the league and has shown more signs of fatigue in these playoffs than we’ve seen in the past.

Chicago area native Shumpert will probably be asked to chase Curry around multiple screens, with Irving drawing Barnes and James on Thompson. But as mentioned, James won’t be asked to guard Thompson for the entire game, and the Cavs might have a tough time hiding Irving on the defensive end, especially when Smith is in the game.

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Cleveland has to figure Curry and Thompson are good for about 45 points in every game, and make sure none of the Warriors supporting players have big scoring nights. The Cavs are saying Irving still isn’t fully recovered from the foot and knee injuries that slowed him in the previous two series, but I get the sense there might be some serious sand-bagging going on, and Irving will be back to his All-Star form for the Finals.

Most of the national experts are predicting a Golden State win based on the Cavs’ injury situation and the way the Warriors dominated a much stronger conference. But Cleveland’s defense has been operating at an exceptionally high level in these playoffs, and you can never underestimate the ability of the world’s best player to find a way to carry his team to four more victories.

After all the mismatches we’ve seen earlier in these playoffs, basketball fans should be entertained by a fast-paced, entertaining Finals.

I’m going to call it Golden State in 7, thanks to the Warriors’ 3-point shooting, superior depth and underrated defense. And that would mean Steve Kerr can start sizing up rings for a second hand after winning five as a player with the Bulls and Spurs.

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

The Bulls and Bobby Portis were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension by today’s deadline, which will make the power forward a restricted free agent next offseason.

According to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein and Gar Forman had “lengthy face-to-face negotiations” on Monday prior to the deadline. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The negotiations – and lack of a deal – come after a summer and training camp in which Portis continued to show progression. After beginning the preseason coming off the bench Portis quickly played his way into the starting lineup alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Portis finished five preseason games averaging 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 22.4 minutes.

Portis, the 22nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, has seen his role increase each of his three seasons. He made a jump last season in Year 3, averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes. He was one of three players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes.

Though the Bulls certainly had the room to sign Portis to an extension, there were obvious reasons on both sides to wait on a deal. For starters, the Bulls will still be able to match any deal Portis receives in free agency next July, much like what happened with Zach LaVine and the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls maintain their abundance of cap space for the 2019 offseason, when they’ll be able to offer a max contract to the top-tier free agents, and they get to see if Portis makes another jump.

For Portis, it’s a case of him betting on himself. If the Bulls came in with a number he wasn’t satisfied with – to help keep their max cap space – he now finds himself on a contract year playing for his next contract. Still only 23 years old, Portis should cash in in July.

Two players from Portis’ draft class were able to cash in. Pacers center Myles Turner signed a reported four-year, $80 million extension and Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. agreed to a four-year, $45 million deal. Portis likely would have fallen somewhere in between those two deals had an agreement occurred.

The Bulls are hardly in an easy situation with Portis. Though they value the versatile power forward, Lauri Markkanen is entrenched at the position for the foreseeable future and the team just spent last year’s No. 7 overall pick on center Wendell Carter Jr. Portis realistically is stuck behind both those players, though he certainly has starting level NBA talent.

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

Chicago, IL (October 15, 2018) – NBC Sports Chicago – THE Home of the #AuthenticFan – has announced it will launch Bulls Outsiders, a brand new, live, multi-platform, fan-interactive Bulls program that will provide a fresh take on that evening’s game and much more from three non-conventional sports show hosts.  Bulls Outsiders will make its network debut after the Bulls 2018-19 road/season opener this Thursday, October 18 (approx. 10:00 PM CT) immediately following Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois on NBC Sports Chicago+, via live stream to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers at NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive, and -- on Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago). NOTE: Bulls Outsiders will also re-air on the main NBC Sports Chicago channel on this night at 11:00 PM; the majority of airings will also air live on the main channel location.

Hosted by three, die-hard Bulls enthusiasts – Matt Peck (@Bulls_Peck), David Watson (@bawlsports), and John Sabine (@jsabine214) – Bulls Outsiders will provide viewers with the hottest takes, insightful analysis, and spirited commentary from the fans' perspective. This new half-hour program will immediately follow the network’s dedicated, season-long presentation of Bulls Postgame Live for all 82 Bulls games this season.  

In addition to the lively post-game discussion with the show’s hosts, Bulls Outsiders will also emphasize heavy viewer interaction via fan engagement on a number of the network’s social media platforms including Twitter (@NBCSBulls; fans urged to utilize the Twitter hashtag #BullsOutsiders in their posts) and Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago), which will enable Bulls fans to directly interact with the show’s hosts via comments and questions pertaining to that particular evening’s game, the key topics presented to them that night, or anything else they want to discuss from a league-wide NBA perspective. 

“Our primary goal at NBC Sports Chicago is to super serve our fans and with the introduction of Bulls Outsiders to our multi-platform programming line-up, we are able to continue that mission with a fresh and fun new program that not only speaks to Bulls fans, but one that directly involves them in the dialogue,” said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago. 

In preparation for the hiring of the program’s three primary hosts, NBC Sports Chicago reached out to a number of notable local (and vocal) die-hard Bulls fans who stood out among the vast Bulls social media community. Candidates who responded back with interest were simply asked to shoot a one-minute video on their phone and offer up their take on Chicago native/Simeon Career Academy H.S. grad Jabari Parker joining the Bulls via free agency.  From there, the initial two dozen candidates were narrowed down to eight, who were then all brought in for in-studio auditions. Following the lengthy on-camera process, Cross, along with Bulls content producer Kevin Anderson, finalized their decision and welcomed Peck, Watson, and Sabine to the NBC Sports Chicago family.  

“It was an intricate process in choosing our hosts, but there’s no doubt Matt, David, and John have a great chemistry and solid individual strengths,” added Cross. “I’m also excited about how Bulls Outsiders will take fan interactivity to a brand new level and I couldn’t be more pleased that we will be able to deliver this show to the passionate and undeniably-dedicated Bulls fan base.”

Please note the following Bulls Outsiders host bios:

Matt Peck - Podcast host/writer for ‘Locked On Bulls’

Age: 31

Hometown: Glen Ellyn, IL

Favorite Bull of all time: “MJ, obviously…but Rodman is a very close second.” 

Favorite Current Bull: Lauri Markkanen 

Favorite Bulls moments: 

1st place – “1997 NBA Finals Game 1. MJ hits the game-winner at the buzzer after Karl Malone misses 2 FTs...Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays."

2nd place – “2011 Eastern Conference Finals Game 1…Bulls blow out the ‘Heatles.’ Taj destroys Dwyane Wade's soul. And has a FILTHY put back dunk late with the route on. The Madhouse goes insane. We all leave that night thinking we were about to win the title.” 

David Watson - Bulls writer/podcast host for BawlSports.com

Age: 39

Hometown: Chicago, IL                            

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: Michael Jordan

Favorite current Bulls player: Lauri Markkanen

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan Flu Game in ‘97…Noah dunk on Paul Pierce in ’09 first round Game 6 Triple OT…oh, and that Pippen dunk on Ewing in the ’94 playoffs.”

John Sabine - Actor, copywriter, and improviser…he has performed with The Second City IO and The Improvised Shakespeare Company.

Age: 34

Hometown: Originally from Dallas, TX…has lived in Chicago for the last 11 years

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: “Pippen or Rodman, it's probably Rodman. Is it weird it's Rodman?”

Favorite current Bulls player: “Lauri Markkanen, but really Bobby Portis. I want to be friends with Bobby Portis.” 

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan's return from baseball. As a kid I couldn't understand, I said "wait ...he just decided to not play and now he decided to play, but like he has a new number and he's still awesome...what?!’ or…either 2013 Round 1 Game 4 against the Nets 3OT, Nate Robinson. It was a Marvel Movie.” 

REMINDER: NBC Sports Chicago will carry the 2018-19 Bulls HOME OPENER on Saturday, October 20 (Bulls Pregame Live presented by Coors Light at 6:00 PM; Bulls vs. Pistons tip-off at 7:00 PM; Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois at approx. 9:30 PM, which will immediately be followed by Bulls Outsiders at approx. 10:00 PM).