Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Tribune’

On The Clock: Finding Order In The Chaos





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Nine days.

That’s all the time we have left in the NBA regular season to sort out all of the issues facing us. And, Naismith knows, we have plenty of them.

Nine more (game) days to weave through the months of drama and finalize the playoff order in both the Eastern and Western Conferences, to see who will snatch this season’s scoring title, to see if the Los Angeles Lakers can salvage the dumpster fire that their season has been since training camp … there’s a host of other loose ends that need to be tied up before the postseason tips off.

We already know the eight players in the Eastern Conference. The Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks have clinched their playoff bids. All that’s left is to firm up the order beneath the Heat, who have a 10-game cushion in the standings.

The Knicks and Pacers are battling for the No. 2 seed (just 2.5 games separate the two). The Knicks surged ahead on the strength of their current 12-game win streak, fueled by their MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony and the streaky J.R. Smith.

The Nets are doing whatever it takes to hold on to their top four spot in the standings, and the coveted home-court advantage that comes along with it.

But at least the pecking order is pretty much set. Not so in the other half of the bracket.

SORTING OUT THE BOTTOM OF THE WEST …

The order in the West remains a bit muddled. The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies are playoff locks. The Spurs have already wrapped up the Southwest Division crown and the Clippers secured the first Pacific Division title in franchise history with their win over the Lakers Sunday at Staples Center.

“It just feels like something we were supposed to do,” Chris Paul said after shredding the Lakers for 24 points and 12 assists. “It means we’re headed in the right direction. We’re not satisfied. We understand this is something small compared to the big picture.”

The bottom of the standings in the Western Conference will come into a clearer focus in the last nine days. The Jazz have a half-game lead over the Lakers for the eighth and final spot in the playoff chase, courtesy of their huge win Sunday night over the Golden State Warriors.

The Jazz have four games remaining: against Oklahoma City on Tuesday, against Minnesota on Friday and in Minnesota on April 15, and at Memphis on April 17, the final night of the regular season.

The Lakers have a slight schedule advantage. Of their five remaining games just one (Wednesday night’s tilt in Portland) will come away from the Staples Center. But their last three will be against playoff teams; Golden State on Friday, San Antonio on Sunday and Houston on April 17.

The Jazz own the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Lakers the favorable schedule. As suspected, this one could come down to the final night of the season.

WHAT RACE FOR THE SCORING TITLE?

The three-time scoring champ doesn’t want a fourth title. Not right now.

Thunder superstar Kevin Durant said as much about his battle with Anthony for the scoring crown.

“He can have it,” Durant said last week, before admitting that he is rooting for Anthony to snag his first scoring title in his 10th NBA season.

Durant obviously has more pressing matters to occupy his time, namely the Thunder’s battle with the Spurs for the top overall seed in the Western Conference. OKC’s loss Sunday to Anthony and the Knicks didn’t help that cause.

Best guess: Anthony gets the scoring title (he’s scored 36 or more points in four straight games) and the Spurs get the top seed in the West.

EAST MATCHUPS UP FOR GRABS, AFTER HEAT-BUCKS 

If form holds in the Eastern Conference, the No. 1 Heat will face off with the No. 8 Bucks, a matchup tilted heavily in favor of the league’s best team.

Everything else after that, however, is literally up for grabs.

The difference between the six other teams is negligible on any given night. With experienced playoff teams like the Bulls, Hawks and Celtics lurking in the bottom half of the East bracket, the higher seeds have to be extremely careful with home-court advantage.

The Celtics and Bulls, in particular, are teams adept at ignoring the obvious and playing above their heads in the playoffs. Two physical teams like this, built with defense in mind — teams that have shown themselves capable of pushing the Heat to the edge (remember the Bulls snapped the Heat’s 27-game win streak) — should have no problem making life difficult for higher seeds in the first round of the playoffs.

STILL HOPE FOR ROSE …

The Bulls have the one variable in the playoffs that could change the entire postseason landscape in former MVP Derrick Rose, who made it clear over the weekend that he has not abandoned the idea of suiting up this season.

Time is obviously not on his side. But that doesn’t seem to be an issue for Rose or the Bulls, who would surely welcome back their All-Star — their best player — to a team that has survived without him quite well.

With just six games left, Rose will have to accelerate his decision-making process and come up with an answer sooner rather than later. After weeks of speculation to the contrary, might Rose actually be ready for a return?

It certainly seems that way based on what Rose told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

“Oh, no,” Rose said, when asked if he’d announce he’s sitting out this season. “I’m keeping it open.”

After Sunday’s game against the Pistons, the Bulls have just six regular-season games remaining.

“I’m not trying to think about that right now,” Rose said. “I’m just trying to get better. I’m just trying to help my teammates, give them confidence to go out there and play hard. I’ll play whenever I’m ready to play. Who knows when I’m ready to? Right now, all I can do is just cheer on my teammates.”

Rose first scrimmaged on Feb. 18 and has said whether he returns is as much a mental hurdle as a physical one at this point. Playing on a minutes limit wouldn’t bother him.

“I wouldn’t mind at all,” he said. “Of course I want to play more. But it’s not that big. I’m going to play whenever I’m ready. I don’t care if it’s 15 or 40 (minutes). I just love the game too much. Like I said, I’m just waiting and praying about it. And hopefully I’ll be out there soon.”

Bulls fans are waiting and praying as well, hoping that not only can Rose return but that he can thrive on his surgically repaired knee.

VUCEVIC CHASING HOWARD FOR REBOUNDING TITLE

No one gets a fancy trophy for winning the league’s dirty work award, the rebounding title.

But wouldn’t it be something if Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic (11.8 rebounds per game) was able to catch and pass former Magic and now Lakers big man Dwight Howard (12.5) for the top spot? Vucevic has turned out to be the surprise gem of the multiple-player and multiple-team deal that sent Howard to Los Angeles and Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia.

Raise your hand if you saw that coming …

TROUBLE FILLING OUT YOUR ALL-NBA BALLOT?

If you are struggling with who goes where on your All-NBA first-team ballot, welcome to the club.

Outside of LeBron James and Paul, there are some extremely difficult choices that have to be made. Who gets the nod between Anthony and Durant at the other forward spot? And do you go with Marc Gasol at center and Kobe Bryant at shooting guard?

That relegates worthy candidates (based on the position-specific nature of the All-NBA team) like Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Howard and Tim Duncan to the second team, even though you could make a compelling case for each of them, too.

At least we have time to think about it … well, nine game days.


Bulls’ Noah Wisely Goes To Finishing School With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We better not hear another disparaging remark about the NBA’s current big man crop and how they haven’t masted the art of playing the position the way their elders did. Not one more cross word.

From Dwight Howard to Andrew Bynum to Amar’e Stoudemire and now, Joakim Noah, they have all found their way to one of the all-time greats for outside training on the art of mastering the low post.

Hakeem Olajuwon has tutored many of the current game’s big men, and others as well. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar worked with Bynum early in his career, is in the midst of developing a relationship with new Lakers big man Howard and taught the master class that Noah attended this summer in Los Angeles.

It was a two-week crash course, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, and one that included not just on-court skill work but also some tips on how best to prepare yourself for the rigors of the life in the NBA and beyond.

The best part of the Abdul-Jabbar-Noah pairing is the fact that these kindred spirits, both men have no problems straying from the conformist’s path and doing their own thing, connected immediately:

“It was very humbling,” Noah said. “I feel a lot more polished offensively. Just because I worked with Kareem doesn’t mean I’m going to be throwing in sky hooks from everywhere. But I learned a lot from him.”

This knowledge extended off the court. Noah said Abdul-Jabbar shared pointers on yoga for offseason preparation and community service.

“He’s a very interesting guy,” Noah said.
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Pippen: ‘Superteams The Way Of The Future” … Past And Present, Too!

 

 

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – How quickly we forget Scottie Pippen (as shown here on CSNChicago.com) … and so many others.

This notion that “superteams” or “megateams” being some new phenomenon in the NBA is convenient, but wholly inaccurate. It sounds good, what with new conglomerations of stars popping up seemingly every season from Los Angeles to Brooklyn. But it’s actually a tried-and-true method to winning NBA championships and, like almost everything else from two decades ago, it is being rebranded for this new digital age.

(Hey Lady Gaga, meet Madonna … and high-top fades … and skinny jeans again — really?)

In the NBA universe, anyone upset with the Miami Heat or Los Angeles Lakers for assembling elite talent on their rosters needs to stop hating the players and hate the game. Just because they were built through the free agent/trade lab and not grown organically — like revisionist historians will tell you those championship outfits of yesteryear were built — doesn’t diminish the end result in our eyes.

If the end game is winning championships by any means necessary, why wouldn’t you want a superteam playing in your backyard?

Who cares how they got there?

Fans in San Antonio have never complained about the serendipity that smothered the franchise when David Robinson got injured in 1996-97, just in time for the Spurs to luck into the No. 1 pick in 1997 and pick Tim Duncan.

There are any number of recipes for cooking up a superteam. We have no problem with a franchise stumbling into one (and to their credit, the Spurs had to build on that Duncan-Robinson foundation with shrewd moves and by nailing their draft picks consistently) or making the calculated steps necessary to create your own fortune.

Boston did it with the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen Big 3. Miami did it with the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh Big 3. And the Lakers are attempting to do it with the Kobe Bryant-Steve Nash-Dwight Howard-Pau Gasol Big 4.

There’s no shame in that. No shame whatsoever.

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Bulls, Heat Fuel Already-Raging Fire





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The more we see of the Bulls and Heat, the more we want to see of the Bulls and Heat.

These teams were made to go at each other. The first of their four regular-season matchups this season lived up to every bit of its pre-game hype, adding more fuel to an already raging fire between the two teams that played in the Eastern Conference finals last season.

Did you see the reaction of reigning MVP Derrick Rose after he failed to snatch this game away from the Heat at the end? Did you see how sick it makes him to lose to the Heat again (not having Luol Deng certainly didn’t help the cause)? We’re talking about a competitive atmosphere between stars that could only be matched by a handful of others in the league today.

The late-game stumbles (of both Rose and LeBron James) aside, this is the sort of action that will ultimately determine the winner of the Eastern Conference champion.  No one would be surprised to see these same two teams battling it out again.

And we’re not talking about some nasty, save-the-handshakes-for-later rivalry here. This is game recognizing game, great players rightly saluting other great players and fierce competitors  showing one another the proper respect by bringing it right at each other all game long.

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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 56)

DALLAS – For all you nostalgic types out there, a rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals probably seems like an appropriate way to end these NBA playoffs.

The Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat can line up and do it all over again, and we get to see how things end up this time around (last time the Mavericks were up 2-0 and minutes away from a 3-0 lead before the bottom fell out and the Heat rallied for a 4-2 win and Dwyane Wade landed his Finals MVP trophy).

Too bad no one told the Chicago Bulls. Because they seem intent on spoiling those plans, their rout of the Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals being Exhibit A!

The Oklahoma City Thunder will have something to say in the Western Conference finals as well. They kickoff their series against the Mavericks here tonight at American Airlines Center, doing their best to join the Derrick Rose‘s Bulls in this postseason’s ongoing youth movement.

We break down both of those series, and more, with the people in the know on Episode 56 of the Hang Time Podcast this week. Our special guests include Bulls beat writer extraordinaire KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune and Mavericks center, defensive menace and Twitter stalwart Tyson Chandler, who was gracious enough to join us after the team’s last practice before Game 1.

Chandler also had to suffer through one of our classic HTP moments. At the end of our interview with Chandler, see if you can figure out which undisclosed airport location (to be named later) one of us was hanging out in during the taping of Episode 56.

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Lang Whitaker of SLAM Magazine and Sekou Smith of NBA.com, as well as our super producer Micah Hart of NBA.com’s All Ball Blog.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Rose’s MVP Case Closed

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What else do you need to see from Derrick Rose to believe that if nothing else, his name should be the first one out of your mouth when we start the MVP conversation?

We understand that the analytical crowd has presented a very impressive case as to why Rose should not take home that trophy. But we watched him shred the Celtics last night on TNT, doing the same thing to one of the NBA’s best defensive teams that he has done to basically every team (and everyone) in the league all season.

And we just can’t escape the fact that our eyes keep seeing something that the stat crowd apparently is missing. If you’re the best player on the floor every night and your team continues to beat back the competition and is a strong candidate to be the league’s best, then shouldn’t Rose’s MVP case be closed by now? The Bulls are 58-20 and barring a catastrophe, they’ll finish atop the Eastern Conference standings.

At least TNT’s Kevin McHale and Steve Smith (above) agree with us about Rose.

Celtics star Kevin Garnett seemed to agree with us about Rose, “They’re not chanting MVP for nothing, his play is doing all the talking,” and the Bulls, “We got our [behind] kicked. I haven’t recalled that in a while,” after last night’s 97-81 thumping at the United Center.

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Boozer:’Stay Tuned’ For The Playoffs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Carlos Boozer‘s fade this season is not a figment of your imagination.

The Chicago Bulls’ power forward is experiencing a very real power drain that has Bulls fans a little nervous, even with as well as they have played down the stretch of this season.

My main man K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune provides the data:

Boozer shot 55.1 percent in December, 53.9 percent in January, 50.3 percent in February and is at 45.1 percent this month. His scoring average has dropped from 20.6 points in December to 19 points in January to 16.5 points in February down to 12.7 points this month. Boozer is playing slightly less this month at 29.8 minutes per game, down from a monthly high of 33 minutes in February.

Boozer is handing out assurances that this too shall pass, and that he will rebound in plenty of time for the playoffs. The Bulls’ performance in spite of Boozer’s power outage is equally impressive, and they are 18-5 with Boozer and Joakim Noah in the lineup together.

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