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West is best when it comes to opening round of NBA Playoffs

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West is best when it comes to opening round of NBA Playoffs

The NBA’s post-season party officially begins on Saturday with 4 games, including the Bulls-Bucks series opener at the United Center. But, let’s be honest, the real intrigue comes in the West, where seven different 50-plus win teams will battle it out in round one.

The top seeded Golden State Warriors won 67 games during the regular season, featuring the “Splash Brothers”, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, along with the league’s No. 1 ranked defense. First year head coach Steve Kerr hit all the right notes in taking over a talented and successful team from Mark Jackson, giving the players more freedom on offense while asking for accountability on the defensive end.

When you look at historical precedent, teams that reach the 67 win plateau have been nearly unstoppable in the playoffs. And, there hasn’t been a team to lead the NBA in both offensive and defensive efficiency since the Jordan Bulls. With all that in mind, Golden State has to be the favorite in the West, and should make quick work of the Anthony Davis-led Pelicans in Round 1. Let’s make it Warriors in 5.

[BULLS: Bulls tout 4th best championship odds heading into NBA playoffs]

The other three series in the West should feature some outstanding drama. Texas rivals Houston and Dallas square off in the match-up of No. 2 and No. 7 seeds. These organizations really don’t like each other, especially after the Mavericks came up with a creative offer sheet to steal talented young small forward Chandler Parsons away from Houston last summer. The Rockets have MVP candidate James Harden and a talented bench, plus big man Dwight Howard is back after taking a couple months off during the regular season to rest a sore knee. Dallas slumped late in the season after a fast start, but any team that has offensive weapons like Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Parsons, plus the defensive ability of Tyson Chandler and Rajon Rondo, can’t be discounted. Still, I’ll make it Houston in 6.

The 4-5 match-up between Portland and Memphis is intriguing, but the Trail Blazers were slowed late in the season by injuries to their top two shooting guards, Wesley Matthews and Arron Afflalo, and Memphis also suffered injuries down the stretch to guards Mike Conley and Tony Allen. The Grizzlies won all four meetings during the regular season, and their physical style with big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph usually translates well with the slower pace of the playoffs. I’m going with Memphis in 6.

The best opening round series in the West features the defending champion Spurs against Doc Rivers’ L.A. Clippers. San Antonio dropped from the No. 2 seed to 6th after a loss in the regular season finale, but this veteran team isn’t worried about winning on the road. Kawhi Leonard had a strong finish to the season, looking more like the player who was the MVP of the 2014 Finals, while ageless Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are also playing at a high level entering the playoffs. The Clippers are always dangerous with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and underrated center DeAndre Jordan, who would turn out to be one of the big prizes in this summer’s free agent class. But 6th man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford is just coming back from injury, and the Clips haven’t been getting much production from wing players J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes. I see the Spurs advancing in 6.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

As for the Eastern Conference, it should be pretty much chalk in round one, with the possible exception being the 4-5 match-up between Toronto and Washington. The Wizards have struggled for much of the season because of injuries to Nene and Bradley Beal, plus an on-going dispute between Marcin Gortat and head coach Randy Wittman over 4th quarter playing time, but I get the feeling their best basketball is still to come. Beal and John Wall have the speed to negate Toronto’s 1-2 punch of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and I believe Washington’s frontline is superior to the Raptors. This one could go the full seven games, and who knows, maybe veteran Paul Pierce will validate the decision by Wizards’ management to bring him in with a series winning shot.

It’s the best time of the year for NBA fans, so get ready for an exciting ride.

Report: ESPN moving release of 'The Last Dance' documentary on 1998 Bulls to April

Report: ESPN moving release of 'The Last Dance' documentary on 1998 Bulls to April

It's happening. We did it.

Monday night, Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported that ESPN is moving up the release date of 'The Last Dance,' the highly anticipated 10-part documentary series on Michael Jordan and the 1998 Bulls, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Marchand, the new start date will be April 19. Until now, the docuseries was billed as being released some time in June.

Some writing had been on the wall that this might be coming. In mid-March, commercials for 'The Last Dance' began advertising the series as 'Coming Soon' instead of 'Coming in June.' ESPN shortly thereafter dismissed rumors of the release date moving up — saying the documentary had yet to be completed — only to be indirectly contradicted by LeBron James and (ESPN employee) Richard Jefferson on the Road Trippin' podcast late last week.

Now, it's nearly official. Marchand reported that ESPN is planning to announce the new release date on Good Morning America Tuesday morning.

So rejoice, Bulls fans and sports lovers, at large. It won't replace the entirety of the void left by the halting of live sports, but this series is sure to be essential, enthralling TV, and as close as the sports world get to a monocultural event under the current parameters.

And above all, what a win for NBA Twitter. They keep rolling in.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Bulls observations: The full Dennis Rodman experience sends Knicks packing

Bulls observations: The full Dennis Rodman experience sends Knicks packing

The Knicks are hitting the links and the Bulls are going to the Eastern Conference Finals. Observations:

A splendid series for Dennis Rodman

This series felt like the full Dennis Rodman experience, and it was delightful. In terms of production, he averaged 15.6 rebounds (4.8 offensive) across five games and dished two game-swinging assists to close out Game 4 at The Garden. As a team, the Bulls were +39 on the boards (winning the offensive glass 84-45) in the series.

In the clincher, Rodman posted 11 points and 12 rebounds — relatively pedestrian by his standards. But he was omnipresent throughout nonetheless, a whirlwind of limbs careening into every rebound scrum, passing lane and screen set. His swagger and unbridled joy for the game were on full display, too:

 

 

Every foul call (there were six in this one, plus an ejection) drew a performance. Every bump from a Knicks player elicited subtle retaliation. And every move he made was met by raucous cheers from the home crowd. Chicago really loved Rodman, and he earned it every time he stepped on the floor.

It all culminated with a litany of peak Dennis moments in the fourth quarter. With just over four minutes left to play, he leapt down the floor and into Luc Longley’s arms after a fastbreak Longley dunk that he assisted put the Bulls up 13. Moments later, he sealed the game for good with a layup to similar celebration (this time, Ron Harper got the hug). 

And the coups de gras: With about a minute left and the game out of reach, he picked up a suspect second technical (which led to an ejection) after he had committed a sixth personal foul. A fiery exit and impassioned jersey chuck into the frenzied UC stands capped it off. All in a day’s work for The Worm. His evolution from fierce rival to beloved anti-hero is truly something to behold.

 

Unfortunately, NBC Sports Chicago wasn’t able to get the reel from this game’s ‘Walk of Shame’ but we’re sure it was as entertaining as ever after this one.

“Playing in the mud”

Those were Tom Dore’s words early in the fourth quarter, and boy were they apt. For this game and the entire series. 

Without fail, mid-90s Bulls-Knicks seems to be a recipe for slog. A fistfight where all the blows are contested midrange jumpers and wild elbows. Only once in the series did a team reach 100 points (the Knicks, in Game 3). In this one, the Knicks hit their first 3-pointer with just outside of a minute remaining in the third quarter (finishing 2-for-13 overall). 

Man, how times have changed: 

 

But ultimately, this series amounts to another whooping, one the Knicks appeared noticeably demoralized by the end of. The Bulls’ swagger is just unmatched. We’ve detailed Rodman’s individual exploits, but there really is a collective feeling of inevitability when this team gets rolling, as they did in the second half of this game. Somehow, Michael Jordan’s 36-point average in this series felt under-the-radar, but he was capable of ripping New York’s hearts out seemingly on a whim.  

And beyond even the players, this team’s energy seemed to seep into the city around them. At one point in this game, cameras panned to a fan-posted ‘Title Ticker’ on the UC wall, counting down the numbers of wins remaining until another Bulls championship. “Another One Bites the Dust” blared as the Knicks sauntered off, defeated. Even from afar, it’s apparent that this dynasty was a full-city effort.

And another late-series gem, from Johnny “Red” Kerr: 

So long, Knickerbockers.

Passing thoughts

  • Jordan (35 points, 5 assists) and Pippen (15 points, 11 rebounds, 5 steals) remain absolutely ridiculous. And Ron Harper, who poured in an impactful 12, is still one of my biggest personal revelations from this Rewind run. Couldn’t go this whole post without shouting out their nights.

  • We had a sad, then animated, then sad again Spike Lee make multiple appearances throughout this one. You simply have to respect the grind.

  • Seriously. Bring back the classic Bulls intro theme. I’ll never ask for anything again.

  • Uh, what?

 

See you Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Magic.

Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.