Friday, March 27, 2009

The Bulls Are Going All Out in Playoff Push

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Chicago Bulls were struggling in holding on to the 9th spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Yes, they were actually defending a spot that isn't worth anything. Fast forward to today, and the Bulls are now 7th in the East playoff picture with a realistic chance of catching up with the Miami Heat. The Bulls won their 6th game in 7 tries by beating...the Heat. Dwyane Wade's 31 points was no match to a Bulls team that had 6 players in double figures. John Salmons top scored for the Bulls once again as he is beginning to make the Bulls front office look good by acquiring him during the trade deadline. Since the arrival of Salmons and fellow former King Brad Miller, Chicago's offense improved a lot in terms of flow. Miller's perimeter game and his ability to drive to the basket gives Rookie Sensation Derrick Rose so much options now. And at times when their offense didn't look pretty, they now have Salmons to give the ball to and create something out of nothing.

The Bulls have been playing inspired basketball lately because of the new acquisitions. But one thing was revealed lately during the Bulls' run -- Kirk Hinrich is still valuable to the Bulls. Some critics said that with Rose's arrival, Kirk was a dispensable player. Kirk has proven this to be a fallacy. Kirk has been the stabilizer of the Bulls lately when things get out of control. Plus, when D-Rose was sidelined because of his wrist, Kirk stepped in and gave Vinny Del Negro an All-Star performance at the point.

The Bulls' future is looking bright. So much brighter compared to 2 months ago. Plus with playoff experience just around the corner, I expect to see more maturity in the games of Derrick Rose, Tyrus Thomas, and Joakim Noah come opening night next season. The Bulls are still far from being a contender, but adding one key piece and some post-season experience for the team might just get the Bulls back to the glory days.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thunder Bring The D without KD

The Oklahoma City Thunder franchise is defined by Kevin Durant. When they picked up 'Durantula' (hehe.. is that seriously going to stick?) as the #2 pick in last year's draft they immediately decided to build around him. The then-Seattle Supersonics traded away Ray Allen for someone who could fit better (essentially, Jeff Green) and let Rashard Lewis walk for nothing. So the fact that KD is their franchise guy probably needs no further establishing.

And the kid has responded, averaging 26 points and 6.6 rebounds per game this year. He's in the running for Most Improved honors this year, which is rare for players as highly regarded as this guy. Just goes to show how good he's been this year.

But advanced stats pundits have noticed that, well, for someone who's so important to his team, he's been kind of a detriment, especially on defense.

So I guess it's interesting to note that since he went down with an injury during the OKC-Dallas game last February 27, the Thunder have gone 4-1 without him. How? Well, they've held opponents down to 92, 87, 83 and 74 points in their four wins. That probably says good defense about as much as it says that the teams they beat kind of sucked (included Memphis, Washington and Philadelphia, a team that hasn't been very good of late).

They also played the last four without Durant's running mate Green (OKC is 3-1 without him on this stretch). The one loss was an 18 point blowout by the Hornets. Why? Chris Paul, probably. But here's another reason. Recent acquisition Thabo Sefolosha sat out the game.

I'm not saying Thabo is the savior of this squad (even though I've been a fan of his from his Bulls days), but he does have a rep for being a defensive stopper. And the team has been playing better defense of late. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Well, he has averaged a respectable 13.5 points and 7 boards, with 3 assists, 2 steals and 1.75 blocks. More importantly (maybe), he's accumulated a plus-minus of +58 in Durant's absence. That says something that the team plays so well when he's on the court.

Still KD is undoubtedly the cornerstone of this franchise. But two things could be worth noting. Thabo Sefolosha was a darn good pickup for the Thunder. And if Durant starts playing more defense, this could be a very dangerous team.

No KG, No Problem. No Rondo...hmm...?!

The Boston Celtics had a pair of tough games this past week taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic. They got by Lebron and the Cavs, but lost big to Superman 2 and the Magic. Without Kevin Garnett, the Celtics are 5-3 but they do not look like a worse team. However, the game against the Magic showed one important thing: The Celtics wouldn't win a title (or win the East) without Rajon Rondo.

Without Rondo, Boston's offense just didn't flow. Starbury started in place of the injured point guard but was just not close to being a point guard. Paul Pierce had to really work for his shots. Ray Allen connected with shots, but that's Ray Allen. The C's just had no offensive flow, and if there is someone they need to stay healthy come playoff time, its Rondo. The C's could survive without Garnett, or even Paul Pierce and Ray Allen (ofcourse not all at the same time), but if you take away Rajon Rondo away from this team, it will make them the 3rd best team in the East for sure!