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.
Here’s an update on the latest NBA free agency news via Reup Sports, including analysis on Jeremy Lin becoming a Rocket, updated Dwight Howard trade rumors and recent signings in Los Angeles. Check out the article here.
For the latest news and analysis on all the action of NBA free agency over the last few days, check out my article via Reup Sports. Today’s post includes Jeremy Lin heading to Houston, Phoenix picking up Luis Scola, the ongoing battle for Nicolas Batum and more!
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.
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.
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.
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.
No Derrick Rose. No Joakim Noah. For the Philadelphia 76ers, that meant one thing in Game 4: no problem. The Sixers took advantage of the injury-depleted Bulls and took a 3-1 series lead in their 89-82 victory in front of a home crowd that could smell the blood in the water.
Without Joakim Noah in the interior for Chicago, Spencer Hawes had another productive game, leading the Sixers with 22 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Jrue Holiday, who struggled with his shot for the majority of the game, hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to extend a one point lead to seven. Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 23 points and 11 rebounds and although C.J. Watson finally had a good offensive game with 17 points, six rebounds and 4 assists, the Bulls still looked out of place without two of their leaders on the floor. Luol Deng once again had a mediocre night and only scored 11 points, which was made even worse by Richard Hamilton’s seven-point performance. Omer Asik got the start with Noah sitting out, but he looked completely clueless as a defender and Hawes ate him up. Hawes hasn’t produced for the Sixers in months, so it’s a guarantee that against a quality center in the next round, he will sink back down to the level of production he saw against Joakim Noah. Taj Gibson provided a crucial boost for Chicago in the first half and finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, but no Rose, no Noah and an unimpressive Deng really gave the Bulls no chance on the road.
At this point, it would be a miracle for Chicago to win this series. The entire team and the city of Chicago is in a state of shock after the events that have transpired in the past week and how fast their chances of winning a championship have evaporated. They might get a win at home in Game 5 to keep their fans from completely keeling over, but Philly has all the momentum right now and if Noah can’t go again, Hawes will kill the Bulls on the inside just like he has in the past five quarters with Chicago’s center sidelined. Tom Thibodeau hasn’t been able to rally the troops with all these disheartening injuries and the Sixers have taken advantage of Chicago’s weaknesses and injury problems as any playoff team should. But Atlanta and Boston should have no problem in the second round revealing this mediocre Philly team for what it is.
Andre Iguodala, Holiday and Hawes all looked impressive today in Philly’s Game 4 win. Evan Turner and Lou Williams have looked like quality scorers ever since Game 2. But up against an actual contender with a healthy starting lineup? The Sixers don’t stand a chance. Don’t forget how easily Chicago dismantled this team in Game 1 with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah actually on the court. Doug Collins has done a good job preaching defense to his young team and he’s done what he’s needed to by keeping his team motivated to move toward pulling this upset off. But Philadelphia can’t score enough points to contend with anyone else in the East, especially against the defensively-sound Boston Celtics, who will likely be their opponent in the next round.