HoopsHabit – Trading Joakim Noah For LaMarcus Aldridge Would Be A Mistake For The Chicago Bulls

There have been talks about a trade involving Joakim Noah and LaMarcus Aldridge all summer. Here’s my HoopsHabit article explaining why that would be a mistake for the Chicago Bulls.

HoopsHabit – “Breaking Down Aspects Of Chicago Bulls’ Stifling Defense Against Brooklyn Nets”

The gritty Chicago Bulls shocked a lot of people when they beat the Brooklyn Nets on the road in Game 7 while dealing with numerous injuries. Here’s my HoopsHabit piece on why Tom Thibodeau’s team was able to advance.

2012-13 NBA Preseason Rankings

With the new NBA season starting in just six days, here’s a look at my preseason rankings for the 2012-13 season. Here’s the article covering the lower half of the NBA and here’s the article on the league’s top 15 teams.

Rajon Rondo Sinks Sixers, Leads Celtics To Eastern Conference Finals

With just over four minutes to play and nursing a three point lead, the Celtics’ leading scorer for the regular season fouled out and left his team’s hopes of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals looking pretty slim. Luckily for Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo had just what Boston needed to finish off the resilient Sixers at home and pull out an 85-75 victory in a decisive Game 7 to win the right to play the Miami Heat in the next round.

Rajon Rondo scored nine straight points for the Celtics with a barrage of highlights to turn their three point advantage into a 10 point lead and after Elton Brand cut the lead back down to eight, Rondo hit a pair of clutch free throws to give Boston an 80-70 lead. Rondo hit a long two followed by his first 3-pointer in five games to send TD Garden into a frenzy and scored 11 points in the fourth quarter to finish with a triple double of 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. The Sixers stayed resilient until the end and kept the pressure on Doc Rivers’ squad throughout the night, but Rondo’s fourth quarter burst ended their playoff hopes and pulled his team within a few games of playing for yet another NBA title.

Rajon Rondo took over down the stretch and led the Celtics past Philly with a triple double.

Kevin Garnett had 18 points and 13 rebounds, Brandon Bass added 16 points and Pierce had 15 points, nine rebounds and three blocks before fouling out. Ray Allen, who missed his first five 3-point attempts, finally warmed up in the fourth quarter and nailed two shots from beyond the arc to shift momentum back in Boston’s favor. The Sixers were led by Andre Iguodala’s 18 points, and Elton Brand and Jrue Holiday each had 15. Unfortunately for Philly, the scoring stopped there. Lou Williams finished with just seven, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner only had six apiece and Spencer Hawes could only manage four. The Sixers hit shots when they needed to to keep themselves within reach, but they never could never take the lead down the stretch as they shot only 35 percent from the floor and Boston answered the call every time with a big bucket to extend the lead. Boston lived up to their reputation of being the veteran squad by responding every time the Sixers came knocking on the door, but the most credit has to go to Rondo for his late game heroics that earned the Celtics a matchup with the Miami Heat.

As I said in my last Celtics-Sixers post, Philadelphia and its fans should be proud of what they accomplished this season. They did benefit from playing a banged up Celtics squad (after beating a Chicago Bulls team without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah), but they still took care of business and pushed an experienced Boston team to the brink before coming up short. They had a shot, but playing against this veteran team on the road didn’t bode well for them, especially considering the overall youth of the Sixers. Philadelphia should benefit from this experience and if they can get their hands on a few scorers, they could be competitive again next year. For the Celtics, this series lasted a lot longer than I anticipated, but they showed resilience and moxie by outlasting a young team with poise down the stretch despite being banged up and playing without Avery Bradley, their best perimeter defender. However it doesn’t really matter who advanced because the winner of this series gets the unfortunate challenge of taking on the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston stands a better chance than Philadelphia, but when all is said and done it’ll be the Heat that advance to the NBA Finals.

Andre Iguodala and the Sixers came up short but they shouldn’t hang their heads.

Sixers Force Game 7

The Sixers needed a boost in Game 6 to stave off elimination and force a Game 7 back in Boston this Sunday. It turns out they got one from Philadelphia’s old hometown hero. Allen Iverson made an emotional return to the court before the game that had the whole arena cheering. After such a heartwarming moment for AI, the Sixers and the fans, Philly would have been hard-pressed to lose this game. Jrue Holiday got his offense going early and the balanced scoring of the 76ers gave them a huge 82-75 win to send the series back to the TD Garden for a decisive winner-take-all Game 7.

Holiday led the Sixers with 20 points and six assists. Elton Brand followed up Holiday’s big night with 13 points and 10 rebounds, Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner had 12 apiece and Lou Williams had 11 off the bench. As has been the case for the majority of this series, it was a low scoring, slow, defensive game, which definitely favors Philadelphia. The Celtics shot just 33 percent from the floor and could only manage 75 points with Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen only putting up nine each. Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 24 points and 10 rebounds and Kevin Garnett finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds, but they got little help from their teammates in another poor offensive outing for Boston. After Brandon Bass’ big night in Game 5, he could only manage eight points on an appalling 2-of-12 shooting night. But who the Celtics really missed was Avery Bradley, who sat out for a second consecutive game with the dislocated shoulder. Bradley is Boston’s best on-the-ball defender, and without him on the floor, Holiday was able to elevate his offensive game and really hurt the Celtics with penetration and solid 7-of-15 shooting. Bradley needs surgery on his shoulder and is done for the rest of the postseason, which means someone will need to find a way to slow down Holiday for the decisive Game 7.

Jrue Holiday took advantage of Avery Bradley’s absence and helped the Sixers force Game 7.

Now the series shifts back to Boston and the pressure is on the banged up Celtics to close out the Sixers at home. However, the Sixers are at a disadvantage because they will be playing on the road in a Game 7 with high stakes against a veteran Boston team that knows how to win playoff games with everything on the line. I’m not convinced Philly will be able to handle the magnitude of a game this important whereas the Celtics live for these kind of games, injuries or not. Paul Pierce will come to play, Kevin Garnett has been a big factor in almost every game of this series so far and Rajon Rondo will step up his game at home. It will take a monumental defensive effort from the Sixers to keep this thing close and they’ll also have to put the ball in the basket even better than they did in Game 6.

Win or lose, Sixers fans should be proud of their team for overachieving during the postseason. They did benefit from playing a Bulls team without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and they’re also facing a hobbled Boston side right now, but this Philly team has put fans in the bleachers for the first time all year and Doug Collins has done a fantastic job despite not having any prolific scorers. Hopefully Sixers fans will support their team just as much as they have during this postseason next year. For Boston, this game will show everyone just how banged up they really are. At this point, I don’t think either team will compete with the Heat or the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, but if the Celtics can somehow play like they were just a few weeks ago when Pierce was healthy, that perception might change.

The Celtics are banged up and limping into Game 7. Will they finish the Sixers off at home?

Brandon Bass Gives Boston 3-2 Lead

It wasn’t a member of Boston’s big three that beat the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 5. It also wasn’t Rajon Rondo who gave the Celtics a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 tonight. But Brandon Bass’ breakout night helped the Celts pull away in the third quarter at home and get a huge victory at home that puts pressure on the Sixers to defend their home court. Bass scored 18 of his playoff career high 27 points in the third, which gave the Celtics a convincing win when combined with solid nights from Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rondo.

Garnett had 20, Rondo had 13 points and 14 assists and Pierce added 16 points. Ray Allen, who moved back into the starting lineup, only had five, but Bass’ big night made up for it. The Celtics also got a big boost off the bench from Greg Stiemsma, who had 10 points and three blocks. Avery Bradley did not play, missing the game because of his dislocated shoulder. Elton Brand led Philadelphia with 19 points but had no answer for Bass on the defensive end. Lavoy Allen had 12 off the bench and Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday and Spencer Hawes all reached double digits in scoring, but the Sixers’ normally stifling defense allowed 101 points for the Celtics. Scoring has never been the Sixers’ strong point, so Bass’ explosion on the offensive end was more than enough to give the Celts a much-needed win.

Brandon Bass lifted the Celtics to victory with a big performance in Game 5.

With Game 6 tonight in Philadelphia, the pressure is now back on the Sixers to stave off elimination and force a decisive Game 7 in Boston. The Sixers have been great at home in the postseason as they find their arena filled with fans that didn’t make their presence well known during the regular season. However, Boston has the experience and knowledge of how to win playoff games, so Philly will have their hands full. Doc Rivers was a top candidate for the Coach of the Year Award and the Celtics should still be favorites to close out the overachieving Sixers tonight.

Philadelphia should be proud of what their team has accomplished this season, and hopefully fans will fill the Sixers’ arena next season after this. But as I’ve mentioned numerous times, Philly only made the second round by virtue of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah injuries in the first round. They gained confidence after winning the series and have battled with this banged up Boston team, but the Celtics are just too good to pick against. It’s going to take longer than the five games I predicted, but even if the Sixers defend their court and force Game 7, Boston should advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Sixers have their backs against the wall. Can they take Game 6 at home tonight?

Second Round Preview: Boston Celtics Vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Even though the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs isn’t over yet, second round action begins tonight with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers! Here’s a quick look at the matchups to keep an eye on and my prediction for the series.

By virtue of a fortunate matchup with the injury-decimated Chicago Bulls, the Philadelphia 76ers have waltzed into the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against a veteran Boston Celtics team. Boston, on the other hand, overcame a one-game suspension to their star point guard, Atlanta’s home court advantage, Al Horford’s inspiring return and some minor injuries to key players to advance past the Hawks in six games. Philadelphia is no Atlanta. As happy a moment as it was for Doug Collins and his team to win their first playoff series since 2003, the only reason they got out of the first round was that Derrick Rose didn’t play after Game 1, Joakim Noah didn’t play a few games and the Bulls completely collapsed in the final seconds of Game 6. And even then, they barely got by. If Chicago doesn’t fall apart in Philadelphia, the series would have gone back to Chicago in a near-impossible-to-win Game 7.

This is still the same Philadelphia 76ers team that can’t score. This is still the same Sixers team whose leading scorer comes off the bench. And even though the Sixers convincingly beat Boston two out of three times during the regular season, that stat isn’t as impressive as it sounds; the first win was at the beginning of March when the Celtics were just 20-18 and hadn’t started playing good basketball yet and the second was when Michael Pietrus’ scary moment snapped Boston’s concentration and directed their focus to the well-being of their teammate. Notice when the Celtics started playing like they have been for the last month, they blew the Sixers out.

Kevin Garnett has a big advantage over Spencer Hawes and the Sixers.

Paul Pierce is incredibly difficult to stop at home and Ray Allen is back and shooting well. Then there’s Boston’s vast advantage in the post; Kevin Garnett is coming off a huge Game 6 and should have no problem outplaying Spencer Hawes, who was only effective in Philly’s first round series with Noah off the floor. And although Avery Bradley has been underwhelming on the offensive end still playing with a dislocated shoulder, his incredible perimeter defense should be perfectly capable in aiding Boston to shut down the recently productive Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams. So unless Philadelphia gets lucky again and the banged up Celtics face serious injury problems, Boston should have an even easier series and convincingly advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Sixers don’t have a truly elite scorer. In fact, they don’t even have a superstar (Andre Iguodala does not count as a star in my book. He’s definitely the heart and soul of this Philly team, but his numbers have been slipping each year since he entered the league). Boston has three players who can single-handedly take games over (Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett), a deadly sharpshooter off the bench (Ray Allen), and two developing young talents who are capable of outscoring anyone in Philly’s starting lineup on a given night (Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass). And as great of a coach as Doug Collins is, Doc Rivers deserved Coach of the Year considerations this year. You combine all of that with Boston’s experience and home court advantage and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sweep here.

Prediction: Boston over Philadelphia in 5 games

If Andre Iguodala can’t completely shut Paul Pierce down, the Celtics will advance easily.

Boston Finishes Atlanta At Home

The Boston Celtics advanced past the Atlanta Hawks at home after their Game 6 victory at home in front of a rocking TD Garden. Kevin Garnett came up big for the Celts, who squeaked out an 83-80 win and will now face the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round.

The man of the night for Boston in the decisive Game 6 was Kevin Garnett, who led the Celtics with 28 points and 14 rebounds. And despite playing with an MCL sprain, Paul Pierce also gave Boston a lift with 18 points while Rajon Rondo chipped in 14 points and eight assists. Josh Smith led Atlanta with 18 points and nine rebounds and Marvin Williams was also big, hitting four 3-pointers to finish with 16 points. In fact, everyone in the Hawks’ starting rotation did their part except for Jeff Teague, who finished with just five points on 2-of-9 shooting. Although, Horford missing a one of two free throws that would have tied the game with just over two seconds to play was also a big blow that finished off the Hawks. It was the only free throw Atlanta missed all night, but it turned out to be the most vital.

Josh Smith and the Hawks came up short once again in the first round.

The key to the series was the Celtics’ depth and the Hawks inability to get a little bit more out of their two superstars. Boston had the luxury of alternating big nights between their three biggest stars (Rondo, Pierce and Garnett), while Atlanta never quite got enough out of Josh Smith and Joe Johnson. Smith and Johnson were certainly the Hawks’ most consistent players in the series, but they couldn’t sting together any truly great performances on the same night, so no surprise a team with depth and multiple contributors overwhelmed them in the end. Al Horford’s return in this series was definitely an added boost, but the Hawks still don’t have enough depth and production from their starting lineup to push Boston to a Game 7.

So now the Celtics advance to take on the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round, who advanced by the virtue of numerous Chicago injuries. This means Boston has a much easier path to the Eastern Conference Finals than they would have if Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah had been able to stay healthy. However, injuries are a part of the game, and they could become a factor in a Sixers playoff series again if Boston’s aging veterans keep getting banged up. Pierce has the MCL sprain, Ray Allen is playing with an ailing ankle and Avery Bradley is still playing with a dislocated shoulder. But as long as the Celtics’ key players are able to stay healthy and give 100 percent, Boston should have no problem closing this series out in five games.

Kevin Garnett led the Celtics to a Game 6 victory and moved Boston into the second round.

Iguodala Free Throws, Late Chicago Collapse Advances Sixers

The Chicago Bulls had Game 6 within their grasp. They had the ball. Just 12 seconds to play. And a one-point lead. But in possibly the most questionable play of the postseason, backup point guard C.J. Watson placed Chicago’s playoff hopes in the hands of Omer Asik, which helped the Philadelphia 76ers become the fifth eight seed in NBA history to knock off the top seed in the first round. Andre Iguodala led the Sixers with 20 points while Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday each had 14 in Philadelphia’s 79-78 come from behind victory. Luol Deng led the Bulls with 19 points and 17 rebounds while Rip Hamilton also pitched in 19.

It was a great win for the Sixers, but a terrible loss for the Bulls, who completely choked down the stretch after leading by three points with just 25 seconds left in the game. Philly got a quick two, cutting Chicago’s lead to one. The Bulls were able to inbound the ball to C.J. Watson, which was followed by a questionable no-call when Jrue Holiday tried to foul him from behind. That no-call looked like it was going to be beneficial for the Bulls (it allowed them to waste more time on the clock) when Watson took the ball the length of the court and found himself in a 2-on-1 with just Spencer Hawes standing between Watson, Asik and a Game 7 in Chicago. But then C.J. Watson made an incredibly dumb decision and instead of dribbling the ball out to waste a few more precious seconds and be sent to the free throw line himself, he passed the ball off to Asik, a 46 percent free throw shooter, who was immediately fouled by Hawes. Watson, an 81 percent free throw shooter, effectively sealed Chicago’s fate as much as Asik did by missing the two free throw attempts that followed. Andre Iguodala then did the smart thing by attacking the basket with the game on the line, got fouled, and made both free throws with just two seconds left to finish off the injury-depleted Chicago Bulls. Watson had room to dribble out. He could have faked the pass and taken the ball to the rim to at least draw the foul. But he passed to Asik, Asik bricked both attempts at the line and Iguodala took it from there.

Jrue Holiday tried to foul C.J. Watson and made contact, but the no-call set up a terrible decision that sent Chicago home early.

Such a demoralizing collapse down the stretch seemed to be a fitting end for a team decimated with injuries to key players that many said had a chance to contend with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals at the start of the postseason. When Derrick Rose went down in Game 1 with an ACL tear, it was fairly obvious the Bulls’ title hopes were devastated, but when Joakim Noah missed the end of Game 4 along with Games 5 and 6, it became clear their chances of even advancing to the next round were slim. And even with all of those problems and Carlos Boozer having a bad shooting night in Game 6, the Bulls found a way to push this series to six games. Credit Doug Collins and Philadelphia for doing what they needed to to win a playoff series, but Sixers fans, it’s time to bring you back down to earth.

The only reason Philly won this series is that they faced a Bulls team without their best offensive player (Rose), their best defensive player (Noah), and their second best scorer and defender (Luol Deng) played with an ailing wrist for the entire series. Evan Turner turned out to be a prophet after he said the Sixers matched up better with the Bulls than the Heat; it’s pretty easy to match up with a team missing two of its most crucial starters. So as happy as it was for the Sixers to get their first postseason series win since 2003, forgive me if I’m not jumping up and down with excitement about their “storybook run.” Nothing has changed; this is still the same mediocre Philly squad that plays solid defense but can’t score to save their lives. Philadelphia has their work cut out for them in the second round against the Boston Celtics, a group of veterans who just caught a huge break with Chicago being upset. Celtics fans should be ecstatic about the Sixers’ win, since it almost guarantees Boston will reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Unless the Celtics suffer a similarly catastrophic series of injuries to key players, the Sixers’ jubilation over beating such an undermanned Bulls squad will be pretty short-lived.

Andre Iguodala hit the free throws when they mattered and Omer Asik couldn’t.

Resilient Bulls Avoid Elimination

After looking like an injury-plagued team primed for a first round playoff exit, the Chicago Bulls went to battle in front of their home crowd and pulled out a 77-69 win over the 76ers yesterday to send the series back to Philadelphia. Chicago’s Game 5 victory put the series at 3-2 and helped the Bulls avoid elimination as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

In an extremely low scoring contest, no one really stood out on either side except for Luol Deng, who finally accepted his role as Chicago’s leading scorer with Derrick Rose on the sidelines. Deng led the Bulls with 24 points and eight rebounds after a few underwhelming performances that allowed Philadelphia to grab momentum and three straight wins. So even though Rose is done for the postseason and Joakim Noah sat out for the second game in a row, with Luol Deng taking the lead on offense and knocking down shots, the Bulls stayed resilient and did what they had to to win at home. Carlos Boozer chipped in 19 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, but other than that, it was pretty balanced scoring for the Bulls. Despite tweaking his ankle, Taj Gibson was actually Chicago’s third leading scorer off the bench with just eight points. Gibson left into the locker room but returned to action soon after.

Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer led the Bulls to a huge Game 5 victory.

Unfortunately for the Bulls, it’s going to take an even more resilient effort to get a Game 6 win on the road to send the series back to Chicago for a decisive Game 7. Philadelphia has been in complete control in the two games they’ve played at home and if Luol Deng can’t knock down shots like he did in Game 5 it could be all over for Tom Thibodeau’s squad. C.J. Watson can’t shoot 2-for-10 like he did last night. Richard Hamilton has to score more than six points. Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer, John Lucas and Kyle Korver all have to contribute something off the bench. In a low scoring series, every point you get from your reserves is crucial and could be the difference between extending the series and going home empty-handed. However, the good news is that Joakim Noah is hopeful for Game 6, which will almost eliminate Hawes’ production and provide an offensive boost for the Bulls in the paint.

Jrue Holiday led the Sixers with 16 points while Lou Williams had 13 off the bench. Spencer Hawes, who had been dominant against the Bulls with Joakim Noah out, met tougher defense from Omer Asik and Taj Gibson and could only muster 11 points. But the biggest killer for the Sixers was Andre Iguodala, who shot an abysmal 4-of-19 from the floor to finish with 11 points. If the Sixers want to close out the series, they’ll need him to shoot the ball way less. Game 5’s disappointing performance just proved that Philadelphia is not a legitimate playoff team, which is what I’ve been saying all along. Without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, the Sixers were able to seize momentum and a 3-2 series lead and even with that advantage they’re still not guaranteed victory here. The Bulls are resilient and have bounced back, putting some pressure on Philadelphia to close things out at home, which will be more difficult with Noah most likely taking the floor again. If the Sixers don’t take the series at home, they will face the incredibly difficult task of winning a decisive Game 7 with all the momentum going Chicago’s way in front of a rocking Bulls’ crowd. That is a nightmare scenario for the Sixers and if the series does go to a Game 7, you can almost be certain the Bulls will complete the improbable comeback and move on to the second round.

Andre Iguodala can’t shoot the ball 19 times if Philly wants to win.