Playoff preview? LeBron, Cavs top Bulls for first win

If this was a prelude to a playoff matchup, we’re in for a treat in June.

      
 

 

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Westbrook injury could bite Thunder come playoff time

The Thunder, without their two best players, now must worry about playoff seeding, too.

      
 

 

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Los Angeles Lakers: 3 Guards Are Their Playoff Key

(Source: Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America)…
Los Angeles Lakers: 3 Guards Are Their Playoff Key
By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…
With Steve Nash injured, Kobe Bryant healthy and Jeremy Lin the starter, can their excellent offensive guard trio of Kobe Bryant, Jeremy Lin and Nick Young be the most productive 3-man-guard-unit in the NBA this season? Yes. A Jeremy Lin-Kobe Bryant starting guard duo isn’t as talented as John Wall-Bradley Beal or Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson, but with Nick Young one of the best sixth men in the NBA, they could be the most productive trio.
Nick Young is injured and will miss the 1st few weeks of the season, but once healthy, this is how I see their guards producing…
Jeremy Lin: 16 points, 6 assists per game
Role: Main distributor and secondary scorer in the starting 5. Team’s 2nd option.
Kobe Bryant: 22 points, 5 assists per game
Role: Main scorer and secondary distributor in the starting 5. Team’s 1st option.
Nick Young: 16 points, 3 ass…

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Love’s eager for playoff credibility with Cavs

Kevin Love has proven himself as a top-tier NBA talent but never reached the postseason.

      
 

 

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Love’s eager for playoff credibility with LeBron’s Cavs

Kevin Love has proven himself as a top-tier NBA talent but never reached the postseason.

      
 

 

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Who’s the Biggest Piece to a Bulls Playoff Run?

With Derrick Rose back, many Chicago Bulls fans and analysts alike think he’ll be the key to a deep playoff run. While Rose will play a big role on this year’s Bulls team, there is another player who means even more to this team’s championship hopes.
So Many Options
What makes this year’s Chicago Bulls team so dangerous this season is that they have multiple players who can play a key role in this team’s potential success. The offseason addition of Pau Gasol will surely solidify the team’s front court and bring some added scoring and experience to the group. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah is one of the anchors in Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system. Taj Gibson can come off the bench and dominate a game as if he were starting. The only person missing from that group though is Jimmy Butler, who will end up being the difference maker for this year’s Bulls team.
Defense Wins Championships
If it were up to head coach Tom Thibdoeau, basketball wouldn’t even involve offense. Since b

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How the Indiana Pacers Can Remain in the Eastern Conference Playoff Picture

No Paul George. No Lance Stephenson. No good for the Indiana Pacers.

Only a year after finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference, Indiana would find itself fortunate if it were playing in May. Injuries and general roster attrition have seemingly killed the Pacers’ season, but in a weak conference, it’s too soon to count the team completely out of the picture.

It almost feels like the basketball gods have banned Indiana from the East’s top eight with the same vigor as the Soup Nazi would reject a loud customer.

No playoffs for you.

And unfortunately, the Pacers didn’t even get to pull a Constanza and leave last season on a high note, losing to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals after dropping 13 of their final 23 regular-season games.

The aforementioned basketball gods seemed to have it out for Indiana over the summer. The Pacers lost All-Star Paul George for the season when he broke his leg during a Team USA scrimmage back in August. But not all of the 56-win Pacers’ summer downfall was due to bad luck. At some point, the organization has to take on blame.

The Pacers didn’t exactly put themselves in the best situation for the upcoming season when they let Lance Stephenson walk to Charlotte for only $27 million over three years. You get the feeling, though, that ridding themselves of Stephenson wasn’t completely a basketball move.

The 23-year-old may have vastly improved in each of the past couple seasons, but he hasn’t necessarily shed his abrasive reputation, which helped him earn far fewer dollars on the open market than he could’ve if he were known for a more peachy personality.

So now, Stephenson heads to the Hornets to make up an all-NYC backcourt, and the Pacers are stuck with a George Hill-Rodney Stuckey tandem capable of throwing up so many bricks that “the Commodores” are already starting to write songs about it. But even with the potential to be the worst-shooting team in the league (yes, there’s certainly a real possibility of that after losing its two best wings), Indiana still has an outside shot of sneaking into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

It is, after all, the Eastern Conference. When we talk about the “picture,” this isn’t exactly an Annie Leibovitz. It’s more of an unwanted selfie from that vain girl who made you follow her on Instagram. You know, the one who literally can’t even believe she took such a gorg pic.

Like the ones on Facebook or the insufferable Snapchat, we don’t really care about the Eastern Conference playoff picture. In today’s NBA, it’s all about the West. But sadly, that’s exactly why the Pacers have a chance.

38 wins got the Atlanta Hawks the No. 8 seed last season. Even if there’s been an infusion of talent at the top (the Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors all have good chances to improve), the depth of the East is still relatively nonexistent. The bottom feeders are as present as the annoying Instagrammer

The losses of Stephenson and George won’t exactly help an offense that finished 22nd in points per possession last season. But we are missing one major point: Even with all their struggles down the stretch, this was still the NBA’s top-ranked defense a year ago.

Of course, George and Stephenson were tremendous contributors to Indiana’s success in preventing points, as well. Those guys are two-way players. And both of them mastering the über-aggressive closeout has done wonders for Frank Vogel‘s defense, which calls for taking away the long ball, running opposing shooters off the three-point line and funneling them in toward the league’s best rim-protector, a guy who conveniently still plays for this organization.

That’s right. Roy Hibbert still exists. Shocking, I know. 

How quickly we forget where Hibbert finished in Defensive Player of the Year voting last year (second, and deservingly so). He’s not the style defender of Joakim Noah or Marc Gasol. Hibbert is a stationary guy who does stationary things. That’s part of what makes the wing defenders so important on this team.

That “funneling” strategy the Pacers have performed so well the past few years—it’s completely predicated on Hibbert‘s strength: defending the rim. But even though the Indiana center has become one of the league’s premier defensive players, Hibbert has his fair share of weaknesses.

He doesn’t move quickly laterally. He doesn’t defend the perimeter. He just kind of stands there and does his “verticality” thing. And in that respect, he’s brilliant. He’s probably the best in the league. But this year, it’s going to be harder than ever for the Georgetown alum to implement his greatest attribute.

Without the wing defense Stephenson and George provide, the Pacers may not be able to properly funnel guys to the middle. That would lead to open shots near the basket, forcing Hibbert to stray from the paint without the quickness to recover. If people were worried about him during the Miami Heat playoff series, when the sharp-shooting Chris Bosh found himself with loads of open looks, there’s reason to fret this year, as well.

So, what needs to happen? Hibbert has to adjust. From the outside, we haven’t necessarily seen how change will occur, but an intelligent and talented defender can evolve and adapt. Now, it’s Hibbert‘s turn, and it’s possible the transition will be slightly easier for him than it would for another big man who might be changing teams and schemes.

Defense has as much to do with personnel continuity and coaching as anything else. Just look at the NBA’s best defensive teams. They’re all squads who have been together for long enough to develop some semblance of chemistry.

The Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder all have consistent cores who know each other’s tendencies. 

Chicago’s Taj Gibson heads toward the outside to defend a ball-screen, and Joakim Noah intuitively understands exactly how to recover. Zach Randolph of the Grizzlies beats up opponents in the post with such physicality because he knows that Marc Gasol will be right behind him to clean up any potential messes. When OKC’s Russell Westbrook jumps passing lanes, it seems like Serge Ibaka almost moves to recover for him before Russ even takes off for the attempted interception.

That’s partly on the fact that those teams all have good-to-great defensive schemers on the bench. Tom Thibodeau, Gregg Popovich, Dave Joerger and the lot know what they’re doing when it comes to putting together defensive sets. But it’s also because those guys just know each other. They know everything about each other. And that’s not something which can be contrived. It can only happen over time. That’s it. 

The Pacers have that time. And they have that coach in Vogel. They still employ Hill, David West and Ian Mahinmi among others who have worn blue and yellow in the past. That’s hardly an All-Star lineup, but it does breed some sort of familiarity. That’s a trait which, with some help from other teams expected to finish ahead of it, could bring Indiana up to a possible No. 8 seed.

Because of that, in an Eastern Conference that is improved but still weak, the Pacers have the potential to finagle enough victories to squeeze themselves into the playoff hunt, even if the chances are slim.

 

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade but maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at WashingtonPost.com or on ESPNTrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of Oct. 10 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com

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Phil Jackson thinks Knicks can be playoff team

Word on the street: Phil Jackson thinks Knicks can be a playoff team this season

      
 

 

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Phil Jackson believes Knicks are a playoff team

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson thinks his team is going to playoffs this season. “In what league,” you ask? The NBA. And no, they haven’t expanded the playoffs to 30 teams. According to Ian Begley of ESPN.com, Jackson is serious when stating his beliefs. Someone may want to monitor Jackson on a daily basis to make sure he’s not developing early stages of old man’s syndrome. In case you didn’t pay attention to the Knicks last season (don’t worry, you we not alone), they won 37 games in a weak Eastern Conference, just one game back of the eighth and final playoff spot. Not bad, even if the East is the inferior conference in the Association. That said, the team who finished behind the Knicks added guys named LeBron James and Kevin Love. Unless Jackson thought the Cavs played in the West, the Knicks have another team to worry about in their race to the postseason. And what about that roster? Props to Jackson for keeping Carmelo Anthony around to sell tickets. But third-grade level re

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5 Dark-Horse NBA Playoff Teams for 2014-15 Season

In the long, unbroken quiet of the NBA offseason, a man can get to thinking strange thoughts—thoughts that, if examined at another time of year, might seem a little crazy.

Thoughts like this: The Milwaukee Bucks might make the playoffs.

Now, might is the operative word here. And nobody’s saying a team that won a measly 15 games last year is likely to crash the postseason party. But as the memory of the preceding season fades and attention turns to draft picks, free-agent moves and hopeful good health, the impossible starts to seem possible.

Besides, an NBA playoff bracket populated by usual suspects isn’t any fun at all, which is why the occasional out-of-nowhere postseason entrant is so exciting to dream about.

You need those underdogs, those surprisingly resurgent teams, those ready-before-anyone-expected upstarts. Sure, they tend to get chewed up and spat out in a brutal first-round matchup with a superpower. But we’re not out to name dark-horse title contenders who can actually win a series or two; this is just about clubs that could make the postseason unexpectedly.

In the spirit of that excitement and at a time when it’s way too early to worry about whatever predictable flaws will fell these teams, let’s isolate the clubs that could make an improbable leap from the lottery to the playoffs.

How improbable? Well, for starters, any team earning our dark-horse distinction must have finished at least 10 games shy of the No. 8 seed in its conference last year. Additionally, it can’t be a team with built-in buzz. You know, one that already has more than a few pundits predicting a playoff possibility.

Now then, let’s think some crazy thoughts.

Begin Slideshow

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