Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Bulls’

Hamstring treatment will determine Gasol’s availability for Game 4

CHICAGO – The Bulls’ status as the healthier team in their Eastern Conference semifinal series with Cleveland got dinged a little Friday night when big man Pau Gasol left in the third quarter with a left hamstring strain.

Gasol said he first felt the injury in the first quarter, and he wasn’t sure how his leg might feel for Game 4 Sunday afternoon. His plan for Saturday? Treatment and more treatment. The Chicago Tribune carried a brief injury update after Gasol finished with six points, four rebounds and four assists in 22 minutes.

“I have to do some tests, see how bad or good it is and then proceed from there,” Gasol said. “I’m just hoping that it’s not a bad tear or anything like that. Hamstrings are tricky and dangerous. Just hoping for the best and trying to stay positive.

“Hopefully I’ll get up [Saturday] with not much soreness and I’ll go to the hospital and do whatever it is I have to do to find out what I have.”

“Early in the first quarter, it started to tighten up,” Gasol said. “It really bothered me. I thought it was going to loosen up and I was going to be able to push through it. The more I pushed through it, the worse it got.”

If Gasol is limited or unable to play, the Bulls will lean heavily on reserves Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic up front. Gibson had nine points and nine rebounds in about 23 minutes of Game 3 and Mirotic got his longest stint yet in the series, scoring 12 points with eight boards in 22 minutes.

James objected to Noah’s taunts


VIDEO: LeBron James gets technical after jawing with Joakim Noah

CHICAGO – With three games of bumps and bruises added to the history and baggage already in play between the Chicago Bulls and their nemesis, LeBron James, what flared up in the third quarter of Game 3 between James and Chicago’s Joakim Noah seemed completely in character.

But as James explained the technical fouls he and Noah got after his slam dunk at 8:33 of the quarter, there was more than the emotions of the moment involved. Vocabulary played a particular role.

“It started on the play before when he fouled me,” James said. “I love Joakim’s emotion and his passion. The words he used went too far. I’m a father with three kids and it got very disrespectful. I’m OK with competing and I love the competitive nature in him, but we should leave it there. What he said to me was uncalled for.”

No specifics were provided, but we can assume Noah’s bleeps were on a Matt Barnes level. James fired back and nodded affirmatively when the dueling T’s were assessed, knowing he had earned his. Noah, who tries constantly to get into James’ and other opponents’ heads, clapped broadly to fire up the United Center crowd.

“The best way to retaliate is to make a play,” James said of his dunk. “That’s the only way I know how to resolve things. Make a play and help our team. It happened – bang-bang. If it was the 1990s or the 1980s, I would have been able to say what I wanted and moved on.”

In these more sensitive times, he took the technical and the fine that accompanies it, and moved on.

Chicago’s Aaron Brooks also picked up a technical for shoving Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova late in the third quarter. That one cost the Bulls a point that might have been pivotal had the game gone into overtime.

Morning shootaround — May 8


VIDEO: What can we expect in Game 3 of Cavs-Bulls?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Impact of losing Wall | McHale to Clippers: ‘Quit hacking us’ | Blatt glad to have Smith back in mix

No. 1: How losing Wall would affect Wizards — The Washington Wizards got some potentially awful news yesterday when the team announced star point guard John Wall has “five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand.” That news not only hurts Wall and Wizards fans, but if he misses the rest of the playoffs, the news may be a fatal blow to Washington’s hopes of a long postseason run. Our John Schuhmann digs into exactly how much Wall matters to the Wizards’ playoff efforts:

Wall has been one of the best player’s of the postseason thus far, averaging 17.4 points and 12.6 assists. With the Wizards playing small more than they did in the regular season, Wall has taken advantage of the extra space and sliced up the Toronto and Atlanta defenses. Though they scored less than a point per possession on Tuesday, the Wizards have been the most improved offensive team from the regular season to the playoffs by a wide margin.

In five playoff games, Wall has created 30.8 points per game via assists, 12 more than any other player in the postseason. His teammates have an effective field goal percentage of 60.5 percent off his passes.

Having earned a split in Atlanta, a healthy Wizards team would have a good shot at getting to the conference finals for the first time since 1979. But assuming Wall is out, they’re in trouble.

In the regular season, Washington was 12.5 points per 100 possessions better with Wall on the floor than with him off. In the playoffs, the offense has scored 115.7 points per 100 possessions in 191 minutes with Wall on the floor and just 96.0 in 102 minutes with him off the floor.

Ramon Sessions is a decent back-up and helped narrow that on-off gap after arriving in a deadline-day trade. But he doesn’t have the quickness, size or decision-making skills that Wall does. And he’s not nearly as good a defender either.

The Wizards will likely have to make due without their most important player, asking more of Bradley Bealoffensively. They couldn’t get the stops they needed down the stretch, but they were within five points of the Hawks with less than six minutes to go in Game 2. And they’re not about to say that their season is over.

“All of us have to step up a little bit more,” Wizards coach Randy Wittmansaid after practice Thursday. “John’s, no question, a big part of our team. But that doesn’t limit what this team can continue to do.”

“By no means do we feel like this series is over or our goals change,” Paul Pierceadded. “We’re going to continue to go out there, reach for our goals, and continue to fight each and every night. We did a good job at cutting this series to 1-1, to get home-court advantage. So it’s up to everybody to rally around one another, use some motivation, and try to win these games, especially for John.”


VIDEO: Digging into the affect John Wall has on the Wizards’ offense

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Morning shootaround — May 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets open to trading Williams, Johnson | Pelicans refute Dumars talk | Duncan’s choice will affect Ginobili’s future | Thibodeau miffed over lack of free throws for Rose

No. 1: Nets open to trading Williams, Johnson — Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King addressed the media yesterday in his end-of-season news conference and much of what he had to say wasn’t a surprise. Per King, the team wants to re-sign free agents Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young and, overall, King was pleased with the team’s late playoff push and playoff run. The one piece of surprising news, however, was that the Nets seem open to trading their multi-million dollar backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post has more:

Brook Lopez has been the subject of plenty of trade rumors the past few years. But after an impressive second half, the Nets have made it clear they view him as the franchise’s centerpiece moving forward.

Nets general manager Billy King reaffirmed that Wednesday, saying he’s committed to re-signing Lopez if he opts out of his contract as expected and becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.

“For us to get in the playoffs that stretch, [Lopez] was the guy who carried us. He was our best player,” King said during his end-of-season sitdown with reporters. “Without Brook Lopez, there’s no way we even get to where we go to this year.

“I’ll say it again: We want him back. I want him back, [coach] Lionel [Hollins] wants him back, ownership wants him back. We’ve all said it. There shouldn’t be any more doubts about it.”

But while the Nets seem committed to Lopez, they’re ready to move on from having the NBA’s most expensive backcourt. King says he’s open to trading Deron Williams or Joe Johnson this summer.

“We’re going to explore all options, as we have [previously],” King said. “Will there be a trade? There could be, but I’m not sure. But we’re going to look at every option to get better.”

When King put together the triumvirate of Williams, Johnson and Lopez three summers ago, the Nets thought they would be headed into Brooklyn with a team ready to compete for championships. That hasn’t happened, though, as the Nets have compiled a combined 10 playoff victories and advanced to the second round just once in the past three years.

Now the Nets appear headed for significant changes, and it will be a big surprise if all three high-priced former All-Stars are back next season. The plan instead seems to be building around Lopez while keeping Thaddeus Young, who also has a player option that he’s far more likely to exercise.

The Nets are in an incredible predicament, of their own making, after they sent three first-round picks (and the right to swap a fourth) to the Celtics for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013. One of those first rounders is for 2016, meaning the Nets can’t tear down their roster this offseason.

So while the Nets certainly have an eye on the oodles of cap space they are projected to have when the salary cap spikes next summer – currently more than $50 million – they have to find a way to remain competitive next season without sacrificing the only kind of long-term flexibility they have.

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Cavs turn to Thompson, Bulls prepared


VIDEO: Tristan Thompson won’t confirm he is starting Game 2

CLEVELAND – Tristan Thompson, who finished fifth in balloting for the NBA’s Kia Sixth Man Award as Cleveland’s first big man off the bench, will move into Cavaliers’ starting lineup for Game 2 against Chicago Wednesday, according to multiple reports.

The No. 1 problem facing the Cavaliers and coach David Blatt in their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Bulls is plugging the lineup hole opened by Kevin Love‘s postseason-ending shoulder injury. Thompson is a logical choice – he ranked fourth on the team in minutes logged this season and played 37 minutes off the bench in Game 1 Monday.

Blatt started veteran wing player Mike Miller in that one, but Miller took only two shots, hit one, scored three points with five rebounds and was a minus-19 in 16 minutes. The other two veterans Blatt used in that rotation, James Jones and Shawn Marion, went scoreless in a combined 14-plus minutes.

At 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, Thompson gives Cleveland a more traditional look up front, while freeing LeBron James from having to guard one of Chicago’s bigs. James prefers more freedom and less banging at that end, and the move meshes with what many expect to see a more offensively assertive Cavs superstar.

“The thing is, [Thompson] played 37 minutes in the last game, so we have an idea of who he is and how he fits in,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They can play him at the five, play him at the four. And because of all the things LeBron can do, that gives them great flexibility. Obviously the biggest concern will be the rebounding aggression.”

With 274 offensive rebounds in 2014-15, Thompson ranked fifth in the NBA, and he was fourth in offensive rebound percentage (14.5). In four games against Chicago, he averaged 9.0 points – his 36 points were only seven fewer than Love scored against the Bulls – and 8.4 rebounds.

Cleveland was 5-10 in the games Thompson started this season.

“The thing with Thompson,” Thibodeau said, “the second shots can really hurt you. And then they don’t play conventional after that. We could see the second lineup with all guards.”

Morning shootaround — May 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors lose ‘poise’ in Game 2 | Thibodeau: Latest front office rumblings just ‘noise’ | Report: Thompson to start Game 2 | McHale blasts Rockets’ effort

No. 1: Warriors ‘poise’ fails them in Game 2 vs. Grizzlies — The scene at Oracle Arena last night was perfectly set for Golden State to snag a 2-0 series lead on the Memphis Grizzlies in their Western Conference semifinals. Warriors star Stephen Curry got his MVP from Commissioner Adam Silver before the game, Golden State was fresh off a Game 1 romp over Memphis and had every reason to believe it could win again Tuesday. But the Grizzlies — thanks to the inspired play of Mike Conley — claimed a 97-90 series-tying win. Afterward, writes Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com, the Warriors said they were perhaps a little too pumped up for Game 2:

The last time the Golden State Warriors lost at home was back in January, against the Chicago Bulls. The last time they lost in regulation at Oracle was back in November, against the San Antonio Spurs. This 97-90 home loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals to the Memphis Grizzlies just wasn’t part of the plan, certainly not on the day of Stephen Curry’s MVP presentation.

In pregame, as Curry took hold of his trophy, Tony Allen was on the other side of the court, pacing like a madman. He had his own plans. He was ready to dash everyone’s expectations with a dose of chaos.

It took some inspired defense from Allen, combined with an inspirational performance from Mike Conley, who played magnificently despite a fractured face and foggy mask. Conley hit his first four shots and the Grizzlies never looked back. After Memphis went ahead 5-4, they led the rest of the way. Golden State had runs here and there, but they were never sustained. The game was always just out of reach, and the Warriors never got organized enough to tug it back.

“I thought we lost our poise tonight,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr assessed. “That was the biggest issue.

“We were too emotional. We were too quick with our intention to score,” he said. “Instead of just moving the ball and setting good screens, everyone was trying to do everything frantically on their own.”

After the game, Curry preached calm, saying, “We’re not going to shoot 6-for-26 many times over this series, so we’re not going to overreact to one bad shooting night, as long as we get quality shots the next game.”

Draymond Green had a similar message, saying, “Nobody expects us to lose a game at home. Now the whole world has collapsed, the Bay Area’s just been hit by an earthquake. Everything’s going wrong.” He then downshifted into a reassuring tone, saying, “We’ll be just fine.”

That’s probably the right approach for the playoffs finally arriving at Oracle. The Warriors made it look so easy, for so long, that one could be deceived into thinking they could skate to a title sans stretches of doubt. It just isn’t happening that smoothly for a young team experiencing life as the favorite for the first time. Massive expectation doesn’t obviate pressure, it amplifies it.


VIDEO: Go inside the huddles with the Warriors and Grizzlies in Game 2

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Small lineup hurts Cavs’ D


VIDEO: An all-access look at the Bulls’ Game 1 victory

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt had a difficult decision to make before Game 1 of the conference semifinals.

Kevin Love was done for the postseason and J.R. Smith was suspended for the first two games against the Bulls. So Blatt needed two new starters on Monday.

Iman Shumpert was the easy choice. And with the fifth starter, Blatt could have chosen to go big (Tristan Thompson), small (Matthew Dellavedova, James Jones or Mike Miller), or in between (Shawn Marion).

He went with Miller, which turned out to be a mistake. In Miller’s 16 minutes, the Bulls outscored the Cavs, 44-24. The score of the other 32 minutes was Cavs 68, Bulls 55.

The Bulls’ 44 points in 16:08 (to be exact) translates into 131 points over 48 minutes. And Game 1 was one of the slowest paced games of the postseason thus far.

It’s no surprise that Blatt was sacrificing defense for offense with the decision to start Miller. For one, the 35 year old isn’t very mobile. And secondly, big vs. small seems to be a defense or offense proposition for the Cavs no matter the specific personnel on the floor, as their no-Love numbers prior to the Bulls series spelled out.

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The Cavs’ defensive issues in Game 1 weren’t all about Miller. There was also evidence of LeBron James being uncomfortable playing power forward defensively and just simple miscommunication. And it all was on display in the first six minutes of the first quarter.

Possession 1 – The hard hedge

After a baseline screen, Jimmy Butler has the ball in the corner, where he gets another screen from Joakim Noah, who’s being defended by James.

James hedges hard to keep Butler pinned in the corner…

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Noah sees this and slips the screen, cutting toward the basket. Butler gets him the ball and Miller comes to help from the opposite corner…

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That leaves Mike Dunleavy all alone and he hits a three to open the scoring.

Possession 3 – The switch

Noah slips a side pick and roll with Butler and then gives him back the ball on the move. Shumpert had been icing the pick-and-roll (getting between the ball-handler and the screener to keep the ball on the side of the floor), so he’s trailing the play. So James switches onto Butler…

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Butler isn’t able to get the ball to a rolling Noah, but he gets by James on the baseline, gets Shumpert to help, and also draws the attention of Timofey Mozgov, so that Pau Gasol is wide open in the paint…

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Butler actually gets the ball to Derrick Rose instead, and Rose hits another three for the Bulls.

Possession 8 – The mismatch

On this play, James has to pick up Butler in transition, and Miller gets caught on Gasol as a result…

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Noah eventually gets the ball to Gasol for an easy bucket.

Possession 10 – The offensive rebound

The Cavs’ initial defense was fine on this possession, but two bigs are better than one when it comes to rebounding…

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Noah reaches over James for the offensive board, which results in a Butler jumper.

Possession 11 – The retreat

When Noah sets a screen for Rose on a secondary break, James switches. And when Gasol sets another screen, Mozgov doesn’t switch…

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… and Rose steps into a wide-open three.

The Bulls’ lead eventually ballooned to 16 points early in the second quarter. The Cavs came back to tie the game, but never got over the hump.

They allowed 99 points in a slow-paced game and were much worse defensively when James was at the four than when he was at the shooting guard (for less than two minutes with Mozgov, Thompson and Marion all on the floor) or small forward (when they allowed 20 points in about 14 minutes).

Miller’s foot speed was certainly an issue. But so were the Cavs’ lack of size, James not being comfortable defending screeners, and miscommunication.

Blatt will likely go with a different starting lineup in Game 2 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT), but there is no obvious solution. Smith will give the Cavs more offensive firepower when he returns in Game 3, but (unless Marion turns back the clock) only Love provided Blatt with the combination of floor spacing on offense and defending bigs on defense. Love obviously isn’t a great defender, but he allowed James to play his more comfortable position on that end of the floor.

Like the NBA’s age of Jordan, this shapes up as era of LeBron


VIDEO: Highlights of LeBron’s big Game 4 as the Cavs sweep the Celtics

CLEVELAND – For a decade and a half in the NBA, from about the mid-1980s through the end of the millennium, certain teams, coaches and especially players bemoaned their miserable luck at living through the era of Michael Jordan.

From access to individual accolades and scoring titles to capturing NBA championships, life was rougher for the likes of Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller and plenty others because their basketball primes coincided with that man born on Feb. 17, 1963. Short of time travel or one of Jordan’s retirements, it was going to be tough for any of them to go through or even around arguably the game’s GOAT.

Something similar is going on now with a fellow born on Dec. 30, 1984.

That day – just 65 days after Jordan made his NBA debut for the Chicago Bulls – was LeBron James‘ birthdate. And the Cleveland Cavaliers star has a strangehold of sorts on NBA success in this century that might wind up rivaling Jordan’s.

OK, so James only had two rings. But he has played in four consecutive Finals and five in his career. He owns four Most Valuable Player awards and, in the 2015 balloting results released Monday, was the only player from the Eastern Conference who got so much as a fifth-place vote.

The Bulls, in prepping for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Cavaliers, know of the feeling of being blocked from their greatest goals by James. But others do as well, from those he has blocked from reaching the Finals – Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony among them – to others who got there but fell short, such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

Tom Thibodeau was the Boston Celtics’ assistant coach specializing in defense who game-planned for James successfully in 2008 and 2010. For the past five seasons, he’s been the Bulls head coach whose club got eliminated twice by James’ teams (2011, 2013). He knows this is the age of LeBron James.

“Yeah. It’s a great league and there’s great players, and it never ends,” Thibodeau said before Game 1 Monday at Quicken Loans Arena. “It keeps coming. When I was in Boston, we had a great team and he was chasing us then. Then he changed and obviously everyone was chasing Miami. Then this year, everyone was chasing San Antonio.

“So there’s a lot of great players in the league and he’s certainly right up there at the top. You have to give him a lot of credit. Sometimes it gets lost – he’s gone to The Finals four straight years, not an easy thing to do. Then he accepted the challenge to come back here. So we know how great he is.”

Morning shootaround — May 3


VIDEO: Clippers advance with thrilling Game 7 win over Spurs

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul has legacy game | Questions loom over Spurs’ summer | As Wall goes, so go Wizards | Banged-up Conley key for Grizzlies

No. 1: Paul has legacy game — It wasn’t quite a Bill Mazeroski or Joe Carter moment, but it was close. While Chris Paul‘s series-winning bank shot that beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 wasn’t a “walk-off” highlight – to use popular baseball lingo that describes Mazeroski’s and Carter’s World Series-grabbing home runs – it did come with just one second left on the game clock at Staples Center Saturday. That, according to the folks at the Elias Sports Bureau, made it the latest Game 7-winning field goal in NBA history. Paul’s balky left hamstring will crowd out that scrapbook play over the next 24 hours, as his Clippers prepare to face the Rockets in Houston with the possibility he won’t be available, but it’s worth a recap of the career night that forever will be part of Paul’s story, per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

After playing the kind of game they’ll talk about when he enters the Hall of Fame one day, Chris Paul went and found older brother C.J.

The two men have been together since Day One of Chris’ NBA career, and Saturday after Paul hit a winner to knock out the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center, he hobbled over to his friends, his family and his brother. They embraced, and Paul finally exhaled while his brother shook his head in agreement.

“He said, ‘Finally,” C.J. Paul said.

Paul’s winner gave the Clippers a 111-109 win over the Spurs – the league’s defending champions and a team that has knocked him out of the playoffs twice before.

“I’m just glad to see him beat those guys,” C.J. Paul said. “We’ve been in the Western Conference for 10 years, and they’ve dominated for all 10 years really. For us to beat them like this … ohhh.”

Here’s how he did it – with 27 points on 13 shots, six assists, two steals, a block and one hamstring.

Chris Paul limped off the court late in the first quarter, burying his head into his hands before heading back to the locker room.

Paul had played in all 82 games this season for the first time in his career, and here he was, in the year’s biggest contest, wondering if his body had just failed him.

“We do everything we can to prepare for a game. You get your rest, you train, you work out, you eat right, try to take care of your body,” Paul said. “And I was just overcome with emotion because I was frustrated, because I was like, all this time, all season long, and then Game 7 my body is going to let me down.

“That’s what it was all about right there.”

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No. 2: Questions loom over Spurs’ summer — Pressing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, the oldest of San Antonio’s veteran core, on their respective future plans might have seemed premature to some, in the immediate wake of their lost back-to-back championship hopes. But that franchise’s aging (or ageless) stars were part of both the storyline and the appeal of the series against the Clippers and Game 7 specifically. Besides, these guys have a way of disappearing for most of the offseason, putting on pressure to grab-and-ask when one can. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News tackled the look ahead as best he could:

The conventional wisdom has Duncan, who recorded his sixth double-double of the series with 27 points and 11 rebounds, coming back for more given that he continues to play at such a high level even at such an advanced age. The same cannot be said for Ginobili, who had his moments in Game 7 with eight points and seven assists but otherwise struggled in the series after averaging 10.5 points during the regular season, his lowest since his rookie year.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game he expects both them and himself to be back for a 14th season together in 2015-16.

“The paycheck’s pretty good,” he joked. … But whatever thought the players have put into retirement were kept largely to themselves during postgame, with neither tipping their hand about their plans.

“It’s too early to think about that,” Duncan said.

Said Ginobili, “(Retirement) could happen, easily. I still don’t know what I want to do, and I don’t want to make big decisions after a disappointment like this. I’ll sit with my family, try to evaluate what happened this year. The Spurs have a decision to make, too. It’s not a topic for right now.”

The Spurs could conceivably reload with the potential of more than $20 million in cap space this summer when the free agent period opens in July. But to reach that threshold, they’d have to bid farewell to both Duncan and Ginobili, who along with Tony Parker have been the foundation of the team since they first joined forces in 2002.

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No. 3: As Wall goes, so go Wizards — Slotted into a Nos. 4-5 matchup with Toronto in the first round, on the heels of an underwhelming second half to the regular season, the Washington Wizards haven’t grabbed much of the playoff spotlight so far. Sweeping Toronto, impressive as that was, only served to send Washington back to the practice gym while others played more desperate games. But the Wizards’ talent is lurking, and whatever they accomplish will be orchestrated largely by point guard John Wall, who’s ready for his close-up, according to NBA.com contributor Ian Thomsen:

As he turns the corner on a career that is just now coming into focus, Wall is giving his Wizards a transcendent advantage. The recent negatives and traditions of their long-suffering franchise are suddenly not so important as his leadership. What his teammates have seen from their young point guard has led them to believe that their tomorrows will eclipse the yesterdays. Wall’s understanding of his teammates inspires them to believe in him.

“That’s what you go through training camp for,” says Wall, his voice deep and scratchy as if revealing the hard past. “That’s why, when you go on the road, you hang out as a team. You do little things to get the feeling, to know how they are. Some people are going to have certain mood swings and not have good days, and you’ve got to know how to talk to those guys and try to get them out of their slump, and to just lock in for those two or three hours that you’re playing the game.”

Wall’s physical talents are not to be taken for granted. But something else about him is driving and uniting his team. The reason he is fulfilling his own potential is because he is recognizing their potential.

The other bracket in the East is brimming with star power: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and their depleted Cavaliers are surrounded by Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler. In that series, the leaders are fighting to uphold reputations that have already been established.

The No. 5 Wizards, by contrast, have nothing to defend and everything to gain in their conference semifinal against the No. 1 Hawks. The Wizards are just now realizing how good they can become by playing through Wall. Their future is as unpredictable as his past.

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No. 4: Banged-up Conley key for Grizzlies — Pretty vs. ugly: OK, that’s probably too reductive. Certainly there’s a lot more that will go into the Golden State-Memphis showdown in the Western Conference semifinals that begin Sunday afternoon in Oakland, but the contrast in styles between the Warriors’ high-flying, long-range offensive attack and the Grizzlies’ oversized mule team down low is as stark as anything we’ve seen or likely will see in the 2015 postseason. Few experts are giving Memphis much of a chance, Michael Wallace of ESPN.com notes, but its prospects perk up considerably if point guard Mike Conley is able to participate from the start. The facial injury he suffered against Portland in Round 1 might intrude, and likely will require a mask, but as soon as Conley is capable of helping his teammates, they’ll happily take him, Wallace writes:

Conley still had significant facial swelling when he attended Wednesday’s series-clinching victory over Portland two days after a surgery in which plates were inserted below and above his left eye. He sustained the injury in a Game 3 victory April 25 in Portland, when he was inadvertently elbowed in the face by Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. Conley has indicated he hopes to return at some point against the Warriors, but his coach and teammates have remained coy — perhaps strategically — about his progress.

Memphis coach Dave Joerger was asked before the team left Memphis if he expected Conley to play.

“I don’t,” Joerger said. “But only because that’s the way I look at the world as a head coach: Expect the worst, and if something better happens, then … You don’t want to go through the doctoral thesis of playoff prep, scouting-wise, without a guy with you. You want to absorb that and get the adjustments being made on the practice court or shootaround court, seeing stuff live. He’s definitely all-in mentally.”

Depending on the teammate questioned, Conley either spent the past two days practicing and on the verge of a return or nowhere to be found. All-Star center Marc Gasol suggested he hadn’t seen Conley and knew nothing about rumors his point guard had been testing protective masks, a step that wasn’t expected until swelling subsided substantially. But then shooting guard Courtney Lee told reporters Conley would be back and the Grizzlies would be facing the Warriors “with a full army” for Game 1.

“We’ll have Mike back,” Lee said. “We feel good about our chances. Just having him back is a boost.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James and Cavaliers coach David Blatt would be more surprised if Chicago’s Joakim Noah were not excited about getting Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals. …Before Steve Kerr, before Stephen Curry and definitely before the Golden State Warriors started winning big, they had the NBA’s most loyal, noisy and arguably knowledgeable fans. … Brook Lopez looms literally and figuratively as the biggest of the Brooklyn Nets’ free-agent decisions. … Then there’s Nets guard Deron Williams, whose coach, Lionel Hollins, has downgraded him from any lofty “franchise player” status. Nice of Lionel to catch up to the rest of us on that. … Portland’s multiple free agents will boost the NBA market overall, but they pose challenges for the Blazers. … If the Bulls cut loose Tom Thibodeau, the Orlando Magic will be waiting with a net. The Magic are determined to hire a coach with considerable experience. …

Numbers preview: Cavaliers-Bulls


VIDEO: Inside the NBA: Looking ahead to Cavs-Bulls

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers swept their first-round series against the Boston Celtics, but came out of it in worse shape than they went in.

Kevin Love is out for the rest of the postseason. And J.R. Smith is suspended for the first two games of the conference semifinals. That will make the Cavs vulnerable at home, where they’re 22-1 since LeBron James returned from his hiatus in mid-January. And it will challenge head coach David Blatt to come up with the right lineup combinations around James and Kyrie Irving.

The Chicago Bulls will be a challenge as well. Though they struggled to finish off the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, the Bulls are healthier than ever. The Bucks series was the first time since Jan. 1 that all five Chicago starters played in six straight games.

Cavs-Bulls in the playoffs brings back memories of Michael Jordan game-winners, but Chicago has lost all three times it has met James in the postseason (2010, ’11 and ’13).

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Cavs-Bulls, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29)

Beat Boston in four games.
Pace: 95.9 (7)
OffRtg: 110.2 (3)
DefRtg: 97.2 (3)
NetRtg: +13.0 (2)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Chicago: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Cavs’ first-round notes:

Chicago Bulls (50-32)

Beat Milwaukee in six games.
Pace: 95.7 (9)
OffRtg: 101.0 (12)
DefRtg: 90.0 (1)
NetRtg: +11.0 (3)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Bulls’ first-round notes:

The matchup

Season series: Cavs won 3-1 (2-0 in Cleveland)
Pace: 95.8
CLE OffRtg: 105.7 (9th vs. CHI)
CHI OffRtg: 105.7 (13th vs. CLE)

Matchup notes: