Tag Archives: Damian Lillard

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls waste big games from Butler and Wade in home loss to Blazers

When you fail to shoot the ball well in the 4th quarter of an NBA game you’re typically going to lose that game. That’s exactly what happened Monday night at the United Center as the Bulls (11-9) lost a tough one to the Portland Trail Blazers (12-10) by a score of 112-110. After a back-and-forth affair that featured a game of numerous runs ended with the Blazer duo of Evan Turner and Damian Lillard making more plays down the stretch to hold of D Wade and Jimmy Butler to send the Bulls to their third loss in four games.

  • You hate to lose a game where your two best players play like just that, but that’s what happened against the Blazers as Wade and Butler both had tremendous efforts that were wasted. Wade scored 34, going 11/13 from the charity stripe while Butler put in 26 (his 14th straight over 20) and was perfect on eight attempts from the free throw line.
  • Both players were great at creating their own shot and making something out of nothing on a night where the Bulls offense was inconsistent to say the least. Unfortunately the duo got little help from the rest of their team as no other starter scored more than eight.
  • Another bright spot in this game was the Bulls ability to get to the free throw line as alluded to earlier. The Bulls got there 38 times, compared to the Blazers 18, and made 33 of them for an outstanding 86.8% on the night. Usually when you shoot 20 more free throws at home than you opponent and make more than 80% of them you’re in good shape, while that wasn’t the case tonight Bulls fans should hope this trend continues.
  • However, as in most losses, there was more bad than good in this one. Let’s start with Rajon Rondo being asked to sit this game out for disciplinary reasons. While Rondo has been the subject of much criticism recently, his absence showed just how thin they are at the point guard position. Jerian Grant got absolutely demolished by Lillard on multiple occasions and Isaia Canaan wasn’t much better in relief.
  • Canaan’s play down the stretch was concerning to say the least. Canaan wasn’t valuing each possession as he should have, giving away a couple bad turnovers and forcing up bad shots early in the shot clock in the fourth quarter. While Canaan isn’t used to playing in big time situations, he has to know better than to give away valuable possessions in a tight game. It probably would have been best to let Wade or Butler bring the ball up the last five minutes or so but hindsight is always 20/20.
  • The defense struggled again giving up more than 100 points for the sixth time in their last eight games. The Bulls struggled to cool the hot hand, whether it was Lillard or Turner at any given point, which allowed both players to go on continuous streaks at important times of the game. Take for example, a few series in a row in the fourth where Mirotic got switched on to Turner and resulted in baskets for him each time. That’s unacceptable play out of this team at this point in the season. Additionally, there were times throughout the game where the Bulls seemed to forget the most important defensive rule, stop the ball in transition. The Blazers got too many open shots too easily because the dribbler was never stopped once he crossed half court. This was part of the reason they put up 65 in the first half and continued on to put up monster numbers throughout the game.
  • As previously mentioned, some Trailblazers had some very solid games. Damian Lillard, per usual, had 30 points, seven dimes, and four boards while CJ McCollum had 24 points and five assists on 10/19 shooting. When they’re on, this is one of the prolific scoring duos in the league and they showed it tonight scoring in all different types of ways. The Blazers as a team shot a remarkable 48.4% which enabled them to overcome the free throw discrepancy and take home a big road win.
  • Up Next: The Bulls head to the Motor City on no rest to take on the Detroit Pistons Tuesday night.

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls rip apart Blazers in Circus Trip opener

The Bulls came into tonight 6-4 following a two game win streak against the Miami Heat and the Washington Wizards. Over the last three games, Jimmy Butler averaged 32 points, capped with a near triple double against the Wizards on Saturday, but tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers he would be without a lot of help. Rajon Rondo was sidelined with an ankle injury, Doug McDermott, who experienced a concussion against the Wiz, and Michael Carter-Williams, who suffered a bruised knee and sprained wrist after a hard fall in Brooklyn. The Trail Blazers needed a halftime pep talk in an embarrassing first half showing against the Denver Nuggets in order to get the win and were looking to come out with a chip on their shoulder. Or so the narrative was supposed to read.

  • The Bulls ran out to a quick 10-0 lead with the revised starting five that included Jerian Grant. They stuck with this squad nearly the entire first quarter, boasting a 35-14 lead to close the quarter. They came to play, never looked back, and went wire to wire.
  • That first quarter buffer proved to be all they would need, as Portland turnovers, poor shot selection, and the inability to secure a rebound (the Bulls outrebounded Portland 67-49) put the nail in the coffin. The Bulls led by 25 on several occasions, and by as much as 26 late in the game, with a final score of 113 to 88.
  • With Rondo out, Jerian Grant was in. And boy, was he in. His number was called and he rose to the occasion, putting forth an outstanding game. He brought energy, heart, and looked to not only fit in, but be a leader on the floor. He finished with an impressive line: over 30 minutes, he scored 18 points on 6-13 shooting with five steals.
  • Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and Robin Lopez all had solid games, looking sharp. Butler scored 19 points in the first half along with six rebounds; for the game, 27 points and 12 rebounds in 34 minutes. Wade had 19 points, five assists, and five rebounds. Lopez produced 13 points and 11 rebounds. A well-balanced attack.
  • After Mirotic’s stellar performance on Saturday in which he scored 17 points on 6-7 from the field and 3-4 from deep, he looked uncertain in his first appearance tonight, playing under 10 minutes in the first half, but caught a groove in the 4th quarter and settled in, finishing with eight points on 3-6 shooting, 2-5 beyond the arc.
  • Taj Gibson continues to impress, being a strong presence down low. He put up 12 points and 11 rebounds in a nice effort.
  • The starting five all had at least +19 in the +/- category, and at least 29 minutes of gameplay each.
  • The Blazers just looked flat nearly the whole game. There was a small window midway through the third quarter where they showed some life, but offensive rebounding by the Bulls kept them at bay. CJ McCollum was their only sign of life. The Patriot League alumnus scored 17 points on 7-17 shooting. Damian Lillard posted 19 points, but was just 7-22 in 38 minutes.
  • Up Next: On Thursday, the Bulls travel to Utah to take on the Jazz, while Portland flies to Houston to face the Rockets.

BULLet Points: Shorthanded Bulls come up short against Blazers

A night after getting trounced in Atlanta and hosting the red-hot Portland Trailblazers, the Bulls were in a tough position on Saturday night. They went down big at times in the first half and entered the break losing 51-41. They used a solid third quarter to get back in the game but couldn’t find enough late to complete the comeback. They stuck with the fast-paced Blazers til the end, but ultimately came up short, losing 103-95.

  • Derrick Rose missed his third straight game with hamstring tendonitis. While I’ve been one of the stronger proponents of Rose missing occasional games to stay healthy in the long run, his inability to suit up against Portland was a definite red flag. This appears to be a legitimate issue for Rose, not just a matter of strategic rest or “general soreness”. Hopefully he’s back on the court soon, because he’s looked as good as he has in years lately.
  • Pau Gasol took control of the offense with Rose and Jimmy Butler out. He tallied 22 points, 14 assists, and 16 rebounds, his first triple double in Chicago. Gasol’s passing has been a major key lately and indicative of how “Hoiball” can look when the ball isn’t constantly stopped on the perimeter. While Butler has taken plenty of heat for this issue, Pau has been a culprit as well. If the Bulls can get this kind of buy-in from their starters when everyone is (hopefully) healthy, the offense may start to look a lot closer to what we’ve envisioned.
  • I like to think of Portland as the Baby Warriors. The Bulls just didn’t have anything close to enough firepower to keep up with them, even on an off shooting night for the Blazers. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, one of the league’s most talented backcourts, average 5.4 threes on 14.3 attempts and 46 points per game. They combined to go 0/9 from behind the three point line. Nonetheless, Lillard poured 31 points in against the Bulls nonexistent paint defense while McCollum was able to add seven assists.
  • E’Twaun Moore continued to impress with another strong performance. He scored 19 points with three rebounds and assists apiece. Moore is a very solid defender on both guard positions and has proven to be a reliable scoring option. I expect to see him continue playing a big role even as Rose and Butler get back on the floor.
  • Mason Plumlee frustratingly played Taj Gibson off the floor. Plumlee grabbed nine boards and scored 16 points on the back of 13 free throw attempts. Gibson had just seven points and three rebounds in 20 minutes.
  • On the plus side, Bobby Portis snatched 16 rebounds and added 10 points for another double double. While Portis is not yet close to being a truly impactful player, he continues to shows plenty of encouraging signs for his future. I’d like to see a little defensive improvement in the next few months, but next year will be the real test.
  • Doug McDermott stayed hot with 18 points, his fifth straight game with at least 14. His shooting splits in that stretch are .578/.500/.933, some next-level efficiency. This should continue to be a valuable tool for Fred Hoiberg, but McDermott is still a complete zero in every other aspect of the game. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging only 3.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.3 steals, and 0.1 blocks. That is pretty dire stuff.
  • Ed Davis is mini-DeAndre Jordan. Or at least he sure looked like it against the Bulls on Saturday. In 25 bench minutes, Davis tallied three steals, five blocks, nine points, and nine rebounds. He looked ferocious rejecting shots at the rim and slamming them down on the other end. Good find for Neil Olshey and Portland.
  • Newest Bulls player Justin Holiday played a hefty 16 minutes and added one rebound. That’s it. Did you know he turns 27 in April and is Jrue Holiday‘s older brother? Both the Warriors and Hawks have already given up on Justin, who seems destined for an overseas career.
  • Coming up: the Bulls head to Miami to take on Dwyane Wade and the Heat on Tuesday night.

BULLet Points: Bulls get first win in Portland since 2007

The Bulls came into Tuesday night’s game having not won a game in Portland since 2007. Fortunately, they were facing a Blazers team that no longer has the benefit of superstar LaMarcus Aldridge, who went to San Antonio this past off-season. Portland sorely missed Aldridge down the stretch, when C.J. McCollum was the guy left trying to be the game-tying hero in the final seconds against a stout defender in Joakim Noah. The Bulls hung on at the end to improve to 9-4; here are the BULLets:

  • The Bulls got off to a great 10-0 start with quick ball movement to generate open looks, often utilizing the now-standard dribble hand-off weave to create action, and taking advantage of a Portland team that looked lost on defense in the opening minutes. They pushed the ball in transition and even on made baskets, forcing the Blazers on their heels for much of the game, as the Bulls led from start to finish, for once turning the Trailblazers into the Trailing Blazers on their home court (terrible, I know).
  • Offense: Joakim Noah did some work in the post on two consecutive possessions, one from the right side, which isn’t his preferred method of attack, and he hit his first jump shot of the year, a 20-footer. He was also active on the boards, with a final stat line of seven points and six rebounds in 20 minutes. If Jo can be even an occasional threat on offense, it will bring another dynamic that was non-existent and severely hampering during last season, as it would force the defense to pay a little attention to him and open up opportunities for the likes of Butler and Rose, who combined for 39 points, on 13/33 shooting and a +/- of 12 when paired together, the highest of any pairing of the night.
  • Niko got his three-ball game going, shooting 3/4 from long range, and 4/8 overall for 13 points. The most glaring improvement he needs is to go up stronger near the basket and get rid of the wacky-waving-inflatable-arms-flailing-tube man act, which rarely yields a call from officials.
  • After Kirk’s impressive retro performance against Golden State last week, he was mostly back to his old-new self in this one. I’m just gonna leave this right here, taken from the Game Book: Hinrich Miss
  • Defense: Overall, the Bulls have limited opponents to 40.9% shooting from the field, second best in the league, but give up 33.9% on 3-pointers, just 12th in the NBA for a team that historically has been much better at limiting threes. Against the Blazers, the Bulls continued to struggle with closing out on shooters and leaving men for open looks (*cough* Niko). With the exception of Butler (always), Snell (usually), and Moore (sometimes), the whole team needs to improve in this area. Luckily, for the Bulls, the Blazers missed open looks and only shot 6/22 from beyond the arc. Derrick’s PnR defense left something to be desired for the first part of the game, going over screens clumsily and often trailing the ball-handler, and even failing to stay in front of his man on one-on-one matchups (granted, this is Damian Lillard we’re talking about).
  • Doug McDermott had a rare moment of good one-on-one post defense where he didn’t fall over, commit a foul, or defend the ball-handler while standing out of bounds baseline (yes, this happened), but it’s depressingly remarkable that I’m commenting on the one time he didn’t screw up on defense.
  • Jimmy Butler was his normal superstar self posting 22 points on 6/13 from the field and 8/8 from the line, with four assists and four steals. He’s been so good the last couple years, that writing about his game-to-game performances doesn’t even seem like news anymore, and this is an incredible thing to take for granted. He has blossomed into easily the Bulls best and most reliable player on both ends – scoring, defending (team and individual lock-down), IQ/playmaking, rebounding, and just being an overall game-stopping badass. I could write an article on his badassery, but instead, click here for an awesome link by Chris Terzic at Blog-A-Bull about how Jimmy has single-handily kept this Bulls franchise in the conversation as contenders.
  • The Blazers are struggling this year, now 6-10 on the year, but still have some bright spots. Namely, Damian Lillard, who has well-established himself as a star; he was flirting with a triple-double (19 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) but on 4/22 shooting and missing all six three-point attempts. CJ McCollum is also a reliable guard, the Lehigh University grad responsible for toppling number two seed Duke as a 15 seed in 2012 when he scored 30 of their 75 points. He continues to show his versatility on the scoring end in the NBA, posting 18 points last night, and averaging nearly 20 a game, along with three and a half rebounds and three assists.
  • Coming up: the Bulls finish the circus road trip in Indiana on Black Friday.

Round One Preview, Part 1: Western Conference

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The NBA regular season held our attention for the full 82 games this season, as nearly every playoff matchup came down to games that were played on the final day of the regular season.

Before I go on, I would like to bid adieu to the 14 teams that did not qualify for the playoffs. League Pass addicts across America shed a tear when the Phoenix was eliminated from the postseason. This year marks the first time in NBA history that the the Knicks, Celtics and Lakers will all miss the postseason. The poor Timberwolves will go down as the team with the best point differential to ever miss the playoffs.

And with that, let us not speak of any of those teams again for a very long time. There are much more exciting matters at hand.

The first round of the playoffs promise to be excellent in the West and potentially interesting in the East, which is about the best thing a person could ask for. The West is loaded top to bottom and is where this preview begins.

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Dallas Mavericks

The Spurs have been locked into the top slot the last couple of days and have been resting guys accordingly. Dallas, on the other hand, has been going full throttle down the stretch to edge out Phoenix for the final spot in the postseason. After losing to Memphis on Wednesday night, the Mavericks find themselves in the worst case playoff scenario. Had they held off Memphis Wednesday and held onto the seven seed, Dallas could have potentially hung tight with OKC in round one. That matchup, like all of Dallas’ potential matchups, would have featured a talent imbalance not in Dallas’ favor. But with the Thunder as an opponent, at least the Mavericks could boast a sizable coaching advantage. Instead, coach Carlisle has to gameplan against Greg Popovich who is known for being a gameplanner himself.

The Spurs should easily dispose of Dallas, a team that can score with the best of them but has been very porous on the defensive end. Dallas gives up 105.9 points per 100 possessions, good for 22nd in the league. That’s not going to hold up against the Spurs’ 6th ranked offense in terms of efficiency. San Antonio’s drive and kick system is specifically designed to systematically pick apart a team like Dallas that plays matadors at both guard spots in Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon.

Dirk and company are too skilled an too prideful to just roll over in this series, but don’t have nearly enough fire power to keep up with San Antonio. I expect at least one crazy Nowitzki game winner, but do not expect more than one Dallas victory.

Prediction: San Antonio in 5

thunder

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies

A rematch of a round two matchup from a year ago, this version of Thunder-Grizz promises to be a lot different with a healthy Russell Westbrook running point for the Thunder. The Grizzlies won 50 games this year despite enduring a six week stretch without reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. New coach Dave Joerger took some time to learn how to best use his roster, but has certainly become more comfortable at the reigns. Gasol’s return from a knee injury returned the Grizzlies’ defense to elite levels. Since January 15, the day Gasol rejoined the lineup, only the Bulls have played stingier defense per 100 possessions.

Oklahoma City enters the playoffs with high aspirations. After making the Finals in 2012, the Thunder lost their All-Star point guard to injury in the first round last year. Westbrook, who has re-injured his knee this season, seems to be fully healthy now. Since the calendar turned to March, Westbrook has averaged 23.4/7.2/5.8 a night on a pretty strict minutes limit. That limit will no longer be in place now that the games actually matter and Westbrook is ready to unleash himself on the Grizzlies.

Memphis, as defensively gifted as they are, will not be able to stop Kevin Durant. They probably won’t even be able to contain him. Durant has never been better than he is right now, on the verge of taking home his first MVP trophy. The Grizzlies extended Tony Allen specifically for this type of matchup, but Allen, at just 6’4″, will struggle to bother Durant’s shot. That’s no slight to Tony, as the entirety of the NBA has been unable to do much against Durant this season. KD has been averaging a cool 32 points a night on 50% shooting from the field, 39% from three. Durant has also broadened his game this year, more willing to put the ball on the floor now than in years past. According to SportVU data, Durant is driving the ball nearly six times a game this season, just one fewer than Lebron. On those 5.8 drives per game, Durant is scoring 6.2 points per game, the fourth highest mark in the NBA.

My final note on this series, which will be won decisively by the Thunder, is that Memphis allows the Thunder to play big, something that Scott Brooks loves to do for no reason. Facing a starting lineup of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the Thunder have an excuse to give Kendrick Perkins run and not have it totally kill them.

Prediction: Thunder in 4

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(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) Golden State Warriors

News of Andrew Bogut’s cracked ribs makes the likelihood of this series being an interesting one very small. The Warriors have the third best defensive rating in the NBA this year despite starting sieves at point guard and power forward. Golden State’s defensive success can be largely attributed to two men: Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut, the latter of which will likely not be healthy in time for round one. Bogut has truly anchored the Warriors defense this season, acting as a final line of defense in the (frequent) event that Steph Curry lets his man by him.

The Clippers have seemingly gone under the radar down the stretch, being pushed aside in the media by the streaking Spurs and the floundering Pacers. But to the careful observer, LA’s Other Team is just as likely as OKC or San Antonio to make it out of the West. Blake Griffin has taken huge strides this season as a defender, post scorer and ball handler. Chris Paul’s shoulder injury ended up being a blessing in disguise as the Flyin’ Lion seemed to really come into his own in Paul’s absence.

It won’t be a cakewalk for the Clips, as Steph Curry and company promise to keep games exciting with their ability to make quick comebacks. No lead is safe against Golden State who is both fourth in three point attempts and percentage. With Bogut and David Lee both nursing injuries, I fully expect Curry to let it fly in the playoffs. Steph already averages 7.9 trey attempts a game, of which he makes 42%, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number climb to nine or ten against the Clippers.

The Clippers’ last two postseasons have ended in part because of a lack of offensive creativity. In the playoffs, when teams really have the time to study every little thing a team does, it is more important than ever to have a sophisticated system. With Vinny Del Negro at the helm, offensive sophistication was never a strong suit of the Clippers. But this season, under Doc Rivers, I expect the Clippers to fight off the offensive stalling that has been characteristic of their recent playoff runs. The Warriors will shoot their way to a couple of close wins, but there’s no way Chris Paul doesn’t get his team to the second round.

Prediction: Clippers in 6

LMA

(4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Portland Trail Blazers

The 4v5 matchup out West might be the most purely entertaining series of the entire first round. In Portland and Houston, we find ourselves with two teams that love to score and don’t care much about slowing anyone down. Houston and Portland finish the season ranked 12th and 16th in defensive rating, respectively, making them far and away the poorest overall defensive matchup in round one. The two teams also rank fourth and fifth in offense, with the Rockets scoring 108.6 points/100 possessions and the Blazers scoring 108.3.

The Rockets defensive efficiency with Dwight Howard on the floor is a slightly more acceptable 102.2. That number hangs right at 102.1 when Omer Asik takes the floor. So why the poor overall numbers from the Rockets? Dwight has sat out eleven games this year and Mutant Judge Reinhold has sat out 34 contests due to various injury issues both physical and emotional. With neither rim protector in the game, Houston’s horrendous perimeter defenders routinely get torched. James Harden in particular has shown little to no interest in playing defense this season. But with Asik back in the fold and Dwight well rested and recovered from his recent injury, I expect Houston to show a level of stinginess they were rarely able to achieve during the regular season.

If not for Phoenix, Portland surely would have been the Little Engine That could team, a squad that some pundits picked to get the 7 or 8 seed, but not good enough to make any serious noise. But after getting out to a scorching start, the Blazers spent the majority of the season in the top four in the Western Conference. Portland’s explosive offense has come back to earth a little bit in the second half of the season, especially its clutch performance numbers. But Portland’s success is certainly no fluke, as Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge both submitted All-Star offensive seasons.

They say the long two is dead in the NBA but don’t tell that to Aldridge, the player who by far and away led the league in that type of shot. And while it would be nice for the former Longhorn to learn to shoot from just a few feet back, it is hard to complain with the results he puts up. LMA is currently shooting 48% from between 16-24 feet, in addition to the 57% he shoots at the basket. Aldridge is a tricky matchup for Houston, a team that lacks any sort of traditional power forward who has the size to make life difficult for Aldridge on the block and the speed to chase him around the perimeter. Dwight Howard, for all the rim protection he provides, is no longer the type of player who can completely dominate the entire floor defensively. 2009 Dwight could have made life miserable for Aldridge on the wings. 2014 Dwight will probably live with the inefficient shots.

The question mark for Portland offensively comes from the point guard position, where Damian Lillard will be matched up against the cagey and relentless Patrick Beverly. Beverly famously injured Russell Westbrook in last years playoffs when he lunged for a steal as Westbrook attempted to call timeout. Beverly has developed quite the reputation, and the swagger to go with it, since moving into the starting lineup this year. Tasked with tracking the oppositions’ number one perimeter option, Beverly has dedicated all of his energy to the process, knowing full well that his starting back court mate James Harden can pick up the slack on offense.  Beverly, who has recently dealt with knee issues of his own lately, will be key in slowing down Lillard and the Portland attack.

Prediction: Houston in 7 (but really we’re all winners because these games will be in the 120s).