After Rose, who is the Bulls' No. 2 option?
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The Bulls didn’t play Sunday, but that might have been the day it appeared they could win the NBA title, though perhaps for the Thunder, Nuggets, Heat, Hawks and Grizzlies as well. Well, maybe not all, but the story of the first weekend of the 2011 NBA playoffs was the vulnerability of the long time favorites.
The Lakers and Spurs, the top two seeds in the West, both lost, and looked old doing so. His teammates played the kind of, “We’re not ready” playoff opener the Bulls did, but Kobe Bryant didn’t have enough to save them. The No. 3 Mavs won Saturday, though just barely, and we know they are old. Jason Kidd had to bail them out, among others. The Celtics barely survived against the Knicks, though being mostly outplayed. The message was to forget the preseason predictions and alleged experts. It’s a whole new era in the NBA, and maybe eight or nine teams can consider themselves legitimate contenders, which is not to say the Lakers or Spurs are done. It’s Game 1. The champion Bulls lost a Game 1 in a playoff series four times. But it is looking more like out with the old (guys) and in with the new.
As for the Bulls, the question will be, at least based on the concept of basketball, is who is the second guy?
Carlos Boozer? Luol Deng? Joakim Noah?
“We are who we are,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after Saturday’s Game 1. “I feel very good about our team.”
Which doesn’t exactly mention who that No. 2 option is. The media all season has debated who is the Heat go to guy. Everyone knows whom with the Bulls. The question is who else?
No one can expect Derrick Rose to have games like Saturday’s Game 1 throughout. Basically, no one ever has. Though there have been some teams in the history of the NBA who won titles with one star and a group of role players, and none perhaps with the resume of players like Boozer or even Deng. Namely the 1994 Houston Rockets and 1975 Golden State Warriors to name two. So can you win as the Bulls are currently comprised? Here’s a look at the top talent on the teams that have won basically since the Celtics’ dynasty of the 1960s.
- 2010: Lakers: Kobe with All-Star Pau Gasol.
- 2009: Lakers: Kobe with Gasol.
- 2008: Celtics: Three potential Hall of Famers.
- 2007: Spurs: Three All-Stars with Duncan, Ginobili and Parker.
- 2006: Heat: Wade with Shaq, who did average 20 that season.
- 2005: Spurs: Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.
- 2004: Pistons: The aberration. Probably no Hall of Famer and Ben Wallace the only All-Star that season. Not even one true go to guy and no 20-point scorer.
- 2003: Spurs: Duncan, Ginobili and Parker, though Duncan was the only All-Star that season with Parker and Ginobili just coming in Ginobili’s rookie year.
- 2002: Lakers: Shaq and Kobe.
- 2001: Lakers: Shaq and Kobe.
- 2000: Lakers: Shaq and Kobe.
- 1999: Spurs: Duncan and David Robinson.
- 1998: Bulls: Jordan and Pippen.
- 1997: Bulls: Jordan and Pippen.
- 1996: Bulls: Jordan and Pippen.
- 1995: Rockets: Hakeem and Clyde Drexler.
- 1994: Rockets: Hakeem and role players, perhaps the team along with the ’75 Warriors most like this season’s Bulls with one superstar. Second leading scorer Otis Thorpe, 13.3 points behind Hakeem.
- 1993: Bulls: Jordan and Pippen.
- 1992: Bulls: Jordan and Pippen.
- 1991: Bulls: Jordan and Pippen.
- 1990: Pistons: Isiah and Dumars, et al.
- 1989: Pistons: Isiah and Dumars.
- 1988: Lakers: Magic, Worthy and Kareem.
- 1987: Lakers: Magic, Worthy and Kareem.
- 1986: Celtics: Bird, McHale and Parish.
- 1985: Lakers: Magic, Worthy and Kareem.
- 1984: Celtics: Bird, McHale and Parish.
- 1983: 76ers: Dr. J. and Moses.
- 1982: Lakers: Magic, Worthy and Kareem.
- 1981: Celtics: Bird, McHale and Parish.
- 1980: Lakers: Magic, Jamaal Wilkes and Kareem.
- 1979: Supersonics: Closest to the 2004 Pistons with no big star with Jack Sikma, Dennis Johnson and Gus Williams.
- 1978: Bullets: Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld.
- 1977: Trail Blazers: A Bulls’ sort of team with one major star in Bill Walton, though Maurice Lucas did average 20 points.
- 1976: Celtics: Dave Cowens, JoJo White and John Havlicek.
- 1975: Warriors: Perhaps closest to this year’s Bulls with high scoring Rick Barry and second scorer Jamaal Wilkes scoring 16.4 fewer per game.
- 1974: Celtics: Cowens, Havlicek and White.
- 1973: Knicks: Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Earl Monroe, Jerry Lucas, the ultimate five-man team.
- 1972: Lakers: West, Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich.
- 1971: Bucks: Kareem and Oscar Robertson.
- 1970: Knicks: Five-man team with Willis Reed instead of Lucas.
Between 1959 and 1969 the Celtics teams with six and seven Hall of Famers won every title except in 1967 when the 76ers won with Wilt, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham and Chet Walker.
NBA Playoffs news and notes
-- Here we go again. It’s playoff time, so you know the questions will come up about teams that supposedly are favored. A Lakers’ loss, perhaps, should mitigate that. But can there be such a disparity in free throw calls for the home (or favored) team? What is the reason? Will it change? The Pacers, Trail Blazers and 76ers were among those seething the most. There’s no question the home teams thus far in these playoffs have gone to the free throw line considerably more than the visitors. In the four Saturday games, it was 130-74 for the home team with the Bulls +15, the Heat +24 and the Mavericks +16. The Lakers, looking lethargic, were even with the Hornets while the Spurs despite losing were +14. So why is this? Are referees more influenced by the home crowd and overreact to booing for visiting team calls? It is a game of aggression, so the aggressive team should get more calls. But Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan noted they had a huge edge in points in the paint, so how can they have so many fewer free throws if they are going to the basket so much? Of course, the home teams also are the higher seeded teams to open the playoffs. So they are the better teams, right? And likely part of that is getting to the line? Two months to go. We’ve hardly heard the last of that.
-- Heat/76ers. The 76ers did what coach Doug Collins hoped in holding the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh 12 points below his target of 75. The 76ers got a big early lead to mute the crowd and were within a point late, though the Heat finally decided to give Wade the ball, and he made the big basket on a running bank shot. But Andre Iguodala killed the 76ers’ chances with four points. It wasn’t long ago Luol Deng was constantly under siege from fans wanting Iguodala, though you don’t hear that much anymore, perhaps other than in Philadelphia. One big key for Miami was force feeding Bosh and getting him going, which the Bulls may have to do with Carlos Boozer. Not that either Bosh or Boozer is known for defense, but when a player gets going offensively, his defense always improves. Bosh led Miami with 25 points, adding 12 rebounds and 11 trips to the free throw line. LeBron after the game said Bosh was the key. Bosh beamed. Mike Miller left after three minutes, hurt for a change.
-- Magic/Hawks. Jason Collins? But, yes, once again the strategy the Bulls also used against the Magic got the Hawks their fourth straight win over Orlando. That may no longer be a coincidence. Dwight Howard got 46 points, 31 in the first half. But with Howard scoring so easily, the Magic abandoned their pick and roll, which can free up their three point shooters. Instead, the offense came to a halt as everyone stood around watching Howard. Last season, the Magic averaged 25-point wins per game in a sweep. Six of the top nine players for that Magic team are gone. Jameer Nelson apparently told Derrick Rose when the Bulls were in Orlando last week they’d see them in the second round, which several Hawks said provided some inspiration. But maybe the Bulls, assuming they advance, see the former Bulls, Kirk Hinrich and Jamal Crawford. The two former Bulls were huge in Game 1 as Hinrich shut down Nelson on the pick and roll and with Crawford combined to shoot 13 of 24 for 36 points. “He’s (Hinrich) getting over screens. He’s fighting, picking up the point guard full court and turning him in the half court,” Josh Smith said. “He’s doing a good job.” Said J.J. Redick: “Their guards killed us.”
-- Dallas/Portland: The Trailblazers were moaning the most, perhaps justifiably, about foul calls as the jump shooting Mavs went to the line 19 times in the fourth quarter to rally for the Game 1 win. But the Trailblazers have themselves to blame as well. They obviously fear offending or losing Brandon Roy, who remains on a long term deal as the team’s highest paid player despite being severely physically limited. So the Trailblazers for some reason played Roy the entire fourth quarter, handling the ball much of the time and doing basically nothing, two shots and zero points. Andre Miller, quietly the best lob passer in the league, played just over four minutes in the fourth. That cost them the game. Not the fouls. Miller, by the way, led the league in alley oop assists and LaMarcus Aldridge led in finishes.
-- Lakers/Hornets. Best Gasol was in Memphis Sunday. It was a brutal Lakers’ loss to the Hornets, who still seem awful. Chris Paul was fabulous after a poor regular season. But Trevor Ariza was his usual two of 13, Emeka Okafor fouled out and Aaron Gray had to play and was in the first time I’m ever writing this, outstanding, though he suffered what seemed like a bad sprained ankle late. Bryant tried to guard Paul late and was terrible, getting caught in screens and allowing Paul to go against Gasol. The Lakers ignored their size advantage, looked confused on defense and, dare we say, old. Derek Fisher tries. But he can’t guard young point guards. Phil Jackson said the Lakers haven’t been good in early games. Good one. Sometimes, though, there’s a reverse effect of a coach leaving. Instead of win one for him it becomes he can’t tell us anything anymore.
-- Spurs/Grizzlies: It was a brutal finish for the team that won, the Grizzlies, missing four free throws in the last few minutes, leaving defensively indifferent Zach Randolph on Matt Bonner, who made a pair of big threes, and failing to go to Randolph with Bonner on him. Yet, Memphis won. Oh, yeah, Manu Ginobili was out, But this puts Memphis in position for an upset, and it may be sweeter given how critical the Spurs long have been of the Pau Gasol trade to the Lakers, the Spurs’ main rival. But Memphis GM Chris Wallace, who endured the leaguewide criticism, finally can smile and pointed out to the Memphis Commercial Appeal this team was built by trading Gasol: "We're not going anywhere, and the town is bored with the team. And Pau's candle was doused. He just wasn't excited about being here even though Juan Carlos (Navarro) was on the team. We had to do something. Plus, I didn't think we were tearing anything down. This wasn't tearing down the Lakers or the Celtics. This team hadn't won a playoff game. Where was the risk? We didn't have cap room. All we were able to do was make trades around Pau and draft players." The Gasol deal with picks and cap room is responsible for half of the Grizzlies' active roster, including Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Hamed Haddadi, Sam Young, Darrell Arthur and Greivis Vasquez. "Pau was like an NBA organ donor for us," Wallace said. "It created so many opportunities that we used to fill the roster and improve the team." The Grizzlies also announced a $71 million extension for Randolph, whom they need. They are spending, which surprises many in their small market.
-- The Pacers, obviously, have to do something about that Rose kid. They were tough, though I’d hardly say dirty. They blitzed the pick and roll, though I never thought that aggressively. They tried to step in front for charges, but were way late. I’ve felt they’d trap at half court or in the backcourt, and I still can see that coming. And that probably was done best all season by, of all teams, the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors in February beat the Bulls 101-90 in Oakland, holding Rose to 14 points and 10 assists with nine turnovers. Their defense was a bit unique with an aggressive trap at half court—Joakim Noah was still out—and then help on the release man, who was Carlos Boozer. If Rose tried to turn the corner, the help on Boozer moved toward Rose, setting up a triple team and with their quick guards they got steals in the lane. It was a clever job for a team often demeaned for its defense by coach Keith Smart and veteran defensive assistant, Jerry Sichting.
“We just tried to take the ball out of his hands and make it as hard as possible,” said Sichting in a phone interview, though Sighting declined to go into specifics. “We basically trapped him hard so we were playing three on four with guys having to rotate. It was one of our best games, and they did kill us in Chicago earlier, though we didn’t have David Lee. Rose had a lot of turnovers. We decided to make someone else beat us and we were lucky enough that he had an off game. We were rotating to either Deng or Boozer and made an early rotation to the screener. The guys stuck to the game plan and it was probably our best defensive game of the season. We did have some very good moments.” The Bulls tried C.J. Watson to get Rose off the ball, though didn’t have much success in that game.
I thought the Pacers would try defensive oriented Dahntay Jones and they might. Mike Dunleavy did nothing for them.
-- Is there a Least Improved award? It’s not really his fault as he wasn’t involved as much amidst the Pistons’ dysfunction, but Ben Gordon finished the season averaging 11.2, 5.7 points below his career average. When he scored 10 points in the final game, it was his first double figure game in the final 13, including two with zero. The last time Gordon scored 20 points despite averaging almost 30 minutes per game was Feb. 2. … There’s rarely been a season like 2010-11 for the Pistons as they awaited a sale with no ability to make changes. Among the highlights, some players tried a mutiny, Richard Hamilton was benched much of the season and declined to speak with the coach, and guys refused to come into games in a season long dispute with coach John Kuester. Tayshaun Prince, who openly referred to Kuester by calling it “buffoonery,” Chris Wilcox, Ben Wallace and Tracy McGrady are expected to be gone as the team still tries to deal Hamilton. One Michigan newspaper had the comment to summarize the season from a Pistons insider: "The players tried to overthrow a powerless dictator, and they couldn't even do that right."… No one ever cares, but the Bucks will try to give it another shot after having 275 games missed with injury or illness, and that includes Andrew Bogut playing most of the season with a limp arm. … Dwight Howard cut down on some of his antics this season to become more serious about the game, but said on the eve of the playoffs it was a mistake: "I think I allowed people telling me because I smile so much and have fun on the court, that I'm not serious about the game of basketball. I allowed it to seep into my head and change the way I play. I just felt like… ‘Why am I trying to not smile or do what I did in previous seasons? Why am I doing this to myself?’ I think people enjoy the way I play because of some of the things I do on the court. Besides me going out there on the court and playing hard, I do like to smile. And the fact that I am interactive with fans and kids on the court. I just can't allow anything to keep me away from it." Did you get a look at Howard in the post game press conference after the Magic’s Game 1 loss to the Hawks? And in that game despite scoring 46 points? He spent all day looking like his dog died.
-- So are Europeans aggressively different than people from the U.S.? At least speaking for basketball players, Michael Jordan told the Charlotte Observer they apparently are. Asked about Boris Diaw’s often casual play, Jordan said, “My attitude is a little different than Boris’ so I can’t be heavy-handed. I played in a different era and I have a whole different (view of) how to motivate players. The only time I’ve been able to do that is by playing next to him. As we used to tell Toni Kukoc, he’s a European. They have different standards and different ways of getting to it. But when they play, they’re very integral parts of outstanding teams.’’ Diaw said he’d exercise his $9 million option for next season. … It was a miserable season for the Wizards, but they patiently saved millions of dollars to have flexibility with the Gilbert Arenas deal and Mike Bibby buyout, and new owner Ted Leonsis is taking an enlightened view in bringing back GM Ernie Grunfeld and coach Flip Saunders. Said Leonsis to the Washington Post: “Ernie had to buy into the rebuild because it’s painful and you want to win. Coaches want to win now. So, what you have to do as an owner is grant dispensation. You have to say to them, ‘I know we’re going to be bad. Don’t worry about losing if we’re young and have a lot of prospects for upside. When you should be worried about losing your job is when we have a good team and we’re rebuilt and the team isn’t performing.’ That’s when it’s ‘Oh, we’re disappointed, we thought we’d be good now.’” … He’s not exactly Most Improved, averaging 7.9 points and 6.8 rebounds this season. But Jordan, of all people, took a chance on Kwame Brown and Brown became a solid contributor and finished the season averaging 14.7 points and seven rebounds the last six games and will be in some demand as a free agent. Said Brown to the Observer: "Now they double-team me in the post. They realize I can score in the post with anybody else." Imagine that. … By the way, Eddy Curry supposedly showed up in a workout for the Heat weighing more than 350 pounds and was let go. Hopefully, he can get his life in order. He’s still just 28. He can help someone, though mostly himself.
-- While there is plenty of speculation about coaching changes with Kurt Rambis, Jay Triano, John Kuester and Keith Smart most vulnerable with playoffs entering into thinking regarding Rick Carlisle, Stan Van Gundy, Frank Vogel, Mike D’Antoni, Larry Drew, Rick Carlisle and Scott Brooks. Phil Jackson is retiring and Doc Rivers remains uncertain with his contract expiring. Many teams considering the possibility of a lockout are growing reluctant to change coaches and then to have a new, perhaps highly paid, coach on staff without any games. Again, quietly doing one of the best jobs was Rick Adelman, who moved into eighth alltime in wins ahead of Bill Fitch. Said Adelman to the Houston Chronicle: “Obviously, they can decide to make a change. That won’t change anything I want to do. I have questions, too. I want answers to a lot of things. If I’m going to come back, which direction are we going to go as a group? I want to hear what they have to say, not to argue with them. I’ve talked this over with my wife, and we have a pretty good idea what we would do either way. It’s OK either way. There are definite things I want to know if I were to have the opportunity to come back.”
-- The madness never ends these days, though I’m hoping what’s began as a terrific playoffs transcends the stories of guys changing teams. At least until the games are over as nothing can happen for a long, long time. First of all, the new labor agreement may cancel all that out. There already was a Dwight Howard is going to the Lakers or Nets story. Though Howard has looked awfully unhappy in that new arena. And Chris Paul went to his Twitter account—where else?—to dispute an AP story saying he wants to go to Charlotte. Charlotte? Wrote Paul: "I thought about (playing near home in Winston-Salem) then when I got drafted. But that feels like that was so long ago now. Come on now people, I did 3 different interviews about the Jordan Brand Classic this morning and was asked if Michael Jordan had influence on free agent signings and I said at the end of the day guys want to win. They asked would I want to return home and I told them I'm focused here in NO and that's the future and anything can happen. Hate when people try to turn things around just to make it a story.” Paul then went out and torched the Lakers, and they even talked on the TV broadcast of someone signing him in 2012. Can TV guys tamper as the networks have a contract with the NBA? … It was a late start, but a strong finish for Butler’s Gordon Hayward, who averaged 16.4 points and shot 57 percent on threes for the Jazz in March. … Quite the endorsement from Kevin Love for Rambis to Minneapolis media: "If that's the case (fired), he had two years to show what he can do. There's no doubt in my mind he can land a job elsewhere, but I just don't know what will happen right now. Kurt and I haven't been on bad terms at all this season. Whatever happens, happens. I'll be content with it and see where it goes from there. More than anything, I just want to start winning, whether that's with the coach we have now or a new coach. I just want to start winning now." Ownership said GM David Kahn will return. Point guard Jonny Flynn will not. … Blake Griffin, who missed all last season with a fractured knee cap and looked like the next Greg Oden and another Clippers disaster, played all 82 games and became the first 20/10 rookie since a former Bull. Know which one? Yes, Elton Brand.