CCI is back...and so is the NBA as the Association resumes play on Thursday.
Unfortunately for the Bulls and Bulls fans, our season finished March 10, ending the season with a record of 22-43. Numerous injuries and inconsistent play derailed the Bulls as the club went the entire season without going over the .500 mark. However, there were a number of bright spots as Zach LaVine averaged a career-high 25 points per game and Coby White emerged as an up-and-coming star playing in all 65 games. Post All-Star break, White averaged nearly 34 minutes per game, scoring 24 points and four assists over a ten-game stretch.
With a new look front office featuring Arturus Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, the Bulls have new optics to evaluate and move forward for the 2020-21 season. Both men are highly regarded in the hoops industry and exciting times are ahead. The Bulls are fortunate to have a cluster of talented young players but injuries have sidelined many over the last two years. Health and development are major story lines approaching next season.
I definitely miss the prep work of calling NBA games. As you know, my unbridled passion for the Bulls and being around the NBA is a huge part of my DNA (if you don't believe me, just ask my wife, Ann, who quickly learned that our marriage certificate came with a subscription to NBA League Pass). As I often say on social media, "All In. All Bulls. 365. 24-7." What exactly does that mean? It means every hour of every day of every month, my approach is to connect with you via Bulls.com, BullsTV and Bulls radio. That being said, my heart goes out to families and frontline workers impacted by COVID-19. I have no doubt that we wll persevere together to face this challenge and emerge stronger than before.
CCI NEWS AND NOTES:
22 teams are in the bubble in Orlando. Each team will play eight games. The top seven teams in each conference will clinch a playoff spot. If the team with the eighth best record in its conference is more than four games ahead of the ninth seed in the same conference, there will be no play in game. However, if the eighth seed in the conference is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth best record, there will be a best of two series as the ninth seed must win both games against the eighth seed to advance to the playoffs.
The NBA has done a tremendous job doing its best to prioritize the health of its players and staff members in the bubble. The NBA announced it had zero positive test results from its 344 players.
The NBA playoffs will begin August 17. The NBA Finals start September 30.
The NBA lottery will take place August 25. The NBA draft is set for October 16.
My favorites: Clippers and Raptors. That's right...Kawhi Leonard takes on his former team for the NBA title.
Most Valuable Player:
Close race here, but LeBron James will capture his fifth MVP award edging out Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Rookie of the Year:
Ja Morant. He reminds me so much of Allen Iverson. I love Zion but please, no drama. This is Morant's all the way. Props to Chicago's very own Kendrick Nunn who is having a terrific season for the Heat.
Defensive Player of the Year:
An extremely difficult choice. My choice: Antetokounmpo over Anthony Davis and Rudy Gobert.
Sixth Man Award:
It's an easy pick to go with Lou Williams...again! But, I'm going to go with OKC's Dennis Schroder.
Most Improved Player:
Flip a coin... Miami's Bam Adebayo or Brandon Ingram of the Pelicans.
Coach of the Year:
Eastern Conference: Toronto's Nick Nurse. Western Conference: Taylor Jenkins of Memphis. (Full disclosure: My son TC is the Head Video Coordinator of the Grizzlies). None the less, Jenkins is doing an amazing job with a young team picked by many in preseason to win less than 25 games in an 82 game slate. Memphis starts the resumption of play as the eighth seed in the West, 32-33.
There is a ton of pressure on the Lakers. Anything short of a NBA Finals appearance will be considered a failure. LeBron is having another spectacular season and will carry the load. Anthony Davis must stay healthy. Period. He was poked in the eye during a scrimmage Saturday but indicated the plan is to play tonight. The Lakers are without Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley.
The Clippers have more then enough to win it all if every player is present. Patrick Beverley, Montreal Harrell and Lou Williams are key players who have left the bubble for personal reasons. Harrell will miss the restart opener against the Lakers. Williams is in quarantine. Beverley is back with the team and may play tonight against the Lakers. When the band gets back together, the Clippers are a deep, physical team. I am pulling for Joakim Noah and am thrilled he's with a team that could possibly play in the NBA Finals. I'm a huge fan of Doc Rivers who knows what playoff ball is all about.
Milwaukee is deep and they have Giannis. I totally get it. But if they mix it up with Toronto, a team that matches up well with them, look out.
Miami is locked in. Don't be surprised if the Heat come out of nowhere and win the East. I love the toughness of this ball club.
The Rockets suffered a setback when Eric Gordon sustained a left ankle injury Tuesday. He could miss up to two weeks. This is big time developing story for Houston.
Another dark horse? Dallas. Sign me up...I am flat out sold on Luka Doncic. A franchise talent who will be at least a ten-time All-Star. Big Rick Carlisle fan. A future HOF coach.
Add Portland to the list of potential candidates to emerge for a shot at winning the West. Damian Lillard needs to be close to 100%.
New Orleans is a team poised to make a run at the final playoff berth with a bevy of young stars, including the next "Face of the NBA," Zion Williamson. During the COVID-19 intermission, Williamson worked out at the Pelican facilities, gaining strength and losing weight. He will lead a young Pelicans team as they attempt to overtake Memphis for the final slot in the Western Conference. The nucleus of the Pelicans has a terrific upside.
I'm just not sold on Boston or Philly although I'll give Brett Brown props for sliding Ben Simmons to the four. I don't care about his three point shooting or lack thereof. Simmons can play for me any time. Boston? How healthy is Kemba Walker?
San Antonio, Sacramento, Phoenix, Brooklyn, and Washington are participating in the Orlando bubble, but realistically have little hope of advancing.
Congratulations to Tom Thibodeau as the Knicks make an official agreement with the former Bulls coach on a long term deal. The Knicks need an upgrade in talent but they will overachieve with "Coach Thibs."
Always a pleasure and please wear a mask!