Chicago Sun-Times

June 2012 Archives

Is Russell Westbrook better than Derrick Rose?

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With LeBron James and the Miami Heat one game from winning the NBA championship, a nightmarish postseason keeps getting worse for Bulls fans.

Derrick Rose's devastating injury in the playoff opener against the 76ers not only ruined the Bulls chances of winning the NBA championship, but put their immediate future as a contender in doubt.

After watching the Heat struggle to beat the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics in the playoffs, it's hard to not think the Bulls would have beaten the Chris Bosh-less Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. (Though a scenario your team is completely healthy while their team has a significant injury is asking for a lot from the basketball gods.)

And the NBA Finals series between the Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, while thoroughly entertaining, has been particularly difficult to digest in Chicago. Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, heretofore the next-best thing to Derrick Rose in the NBA, is rising to the top with a stellar series. His one-man, virtuoso performance in Game 4 -- 43 points on 20-of-32 shooting in a 104-98 loss -- left Rose in the dust and evoked memories of Michael Jordan's best NBA Finals performances.

'Full-speed ahead' running Thunder into trouble

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The Oklahoma City Thunder make no bones about being a fast-paced, up-and-down team that doesn't back off its aggressive nature whether it is red-hot or ice-cold, but sometimes it might be wise to follow the old boxing adage, 'Don't hook with a hooker.'

Going full-tilt works against a veteran [or old] team like the Spurs, but it played right into the hands of the Heat, which arguably cost the Thunder a chance to control the game. Instead of pulling back the reins a bit and forcing the Heat to expend energy on both ends of the floor to get back into the game, the Thunder ignited the Heat comeback by continuing to fire up long-range shots and committing turnovers. They squandered 16 points of their 17-point lead in 3:33.

The Thunder is particularly expert at run-and-gun basketball. It is in the NBA Finals despite committing more turnovers than any team in the league and also ranked 30th and last in the NBA in assists. In fact, it is only the fifth team in NBA history to have assists on fewer than 50 percent of its field goals in the regular season (49.7). And only second to make the playoffs. (The only other playoff team with that distinction was the 2007 Dallas Mavericks, who lost to the Heat in the Finals. The Mavs didn't win it all until Rick Carlisle became their coach and they became one of the best passing/assist teams in the NBA -- upsetting the Heat in last year's Finals.)

Several factors have put the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 3-1 hole in the NBA Finals, but the most tangible and obvious is James Harden's shooting/scoring slump. Harden, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, has scored 9 and 8 points in two game at American Airlines Arena, shooting 2-for-10 in each game.

Complicating matters further is a bruised left hand Harden suffered in Game 4. He had the hand wrapped up prior to Wednesday's practice but is expected to play in Game 5.

Harden, who scored five points in Game 1 and 21 in Game 2, is averaging 10.8 points per game, six below his season average. His three single-digit scoring games in the series equal the number of single-digit games he had in the entire regular season.

LeBron James is still feeling the effects of muscle cramps the forced him to the bench twice in the final minutes of the Miami Heat's 104-98 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. But he expects to be play Thursday night in Game 5 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, when he has a chance to clinch his first NBA title.

''I feel a lot better than i did last night. That's clear,'' James said Wednesday. ''I'm able to walk up here [the interview-room podium] even better than I did [Tuesday] night when I talked to you guys.

''I'm still a little sore because of the muscles just kind of being at an intense level, very tight. I was able to get some treatment last night [and] this morning.

James said he planned to use Wednesday as a rest day. ''And with the game being basically at midnight [9 p.m. Miami time], I have all day tomorrow, too, to prepare. I should be fine by [Thursday] night.''

Magnificent 7: LeBron outduels Durant in Game 3

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The seven players who made the biggest impact on Game 3 of the NBA Finals:

1. LeBron James, Heat

Outplayed Kevin Durant in crunch time to take another step toward erasing his reputation for going soft in the fourth quarter. Scored six of the Heat's final 10 points, including a free throw with 16 seconds left that gave Miami an 89-85 lead. Finished with 29 points on 11-of-23 shooting, with 14 rebounds.

2. Kevin Durant, Thunder

Scored 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting, but his fearless desire to defend the Heat's best players got the best of him. Durant scored four points after picking up his fourth foul with 5:41 left in the third quarter and two missed free throws with the Thunder trailing 76-75 in the fourth. Has to play smarter.

3. Dwyane Wade, Heat

Though James is starting to carry this team on his back, Wade is still invaluable when the going gets tough. His momentum-breaking baskets with the Heat down 60-51 and 67-62 in the third quarter can't be overlooked as a difference-making factor. Finished with 25 points on 8-of-22 shooting, seven rebounds, seven assists.

Magnificent 7: LeBron outduels Durant in Game 2

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The seven players who made the biggest impact on Game 2 of the NBA Finals:

1. LeBron James, Heat

Pretty close to another fourth-quarter failure -- he had just two free throws in the first 10:30 as the Thunder closed to 94-91 -- James came through in the clutch, hitting a pullup 15-footer off the glass, defending Kevin Durant's baseline jumper with 10 seconds left and Russell Westbrooks rebound attempt, then hitting two free throws with seven seconds left to clinch it.

2. Kevin Durant, Thunder

Had another incredible fourth-quarter run - 16 points in the final nine minutes while playing with five fouls -- that was undone by a missed jumper that would have tied the game with 10 seconds left. Had a chance to force the issue on that play by driving the baseline to the basket, but pulled up for a jumper that missed. Despite his ultimate failure, he's still been the best player in this series.

The Bulls have announced they will move their practice facility from the Berto Center in Deerfield to a new location in downtown Chicago.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel pitched the idea to Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who has decided to sell the suburban practice facility where the team has trained since 1992.
"Mayor Emanuel has done a tremendous job promoting investment in the City of Chicago," said Reinsdorf. "The Mayor stressed that the Bulls brand is important to the city, nationally and internationally, and that the Bulls represent the spirit and competitive grit of Chicago. He thought centralizing our team assets inside the city limits would be a show of our ongoing commitment to Chicago. We have been contemplating how to address the growth limitations of our practice facility for awhile, so the Mayor's timing and ours seems to make sense."
The team is exploring a variety of sites in the city for their privately funded project. No timetable has been established.

One option could involve a situation similar to what the Warriors did in Oakland. The team built a practice facility atop a downtown hotel, and therefore their logo has become part of the city's skyline.
"We have been happy at the Berto for many years," said Bulls President and COO Michael Reinsdorf. "However, for us, the time is right for a move from both a basketball and a business standpoint.  Our basketball operations group has been incredibly resourceful, but there is no longer space available to grow where we are now.  And, strategically, we are taking a more integrated approach to our business, and decreasing the physical distance between our two main facilities will naturally create more opportunities for collaboration among all departments." 
 A new facility could allow the team to include event and education space as well as greater digital and video production capabilities, which are ideas currently under consideration.

A downtown practice facility would also reduce the commute time for players on game days. The team typically holds shootarounds at the Berto Center, which is located approximately 25 miles north of the United Center. Players then have to drive to games. Some players even maintain two residences, one near the practice facility and another near the United Center.

The seven players who made the biggest impact on Game 1 of the NBA Finals:

1. Kevin Durant, Thunder

Willowy, wiry, long-armed 6-10 forward showed off his versatility, scoring seven different ways en route to 17 fourth-quarter points -- a put-back, a one-handed floater, a fast-break dunk, a three-pointer, a drive, a two-point jumper and four free throws. Finished with an eloquent 36 points on 12-of-20 shooting, with eight rebounds, four assists and a blocked shot. On defense, went for the first pump-fake LeBron James gave him in the first quarter and was called for a foul -- but never was fooled again.

2. Russell Westbrook, Thunder

Effervescent shoot-first point guard has no conscience when it comes to putting it up, which came in handy after a 2-of-10 first-half. Hit 7-of-14 second-half shots and scored 18 of his 27 points after halftime. While Durant did most of the scoring in the fourth quarter, Westbrook's six points in the final 2:00 of the third quarter that turned a 71-66 deficit into a 74-73 lead might have been the key to the game. Westbrook added 11 assists and eight rebounds to go along with a solid defensive effort, including a few rounds with James.

My five-second review of ''The Dream Team'' that will air on NBA TV on Wednesday night at 8 is as succinct as a review can be: Charles Barkley's in it.

That's all you need to know if you're deciding whether or not to watch the ''definitive documentary'' on the 1992 United States Olympic basketball team that truly was a legend in its own time. Executive producers Dion Cocoros and Danny Meiseles interviewed all 12 players on the U.S. team, plus Toni Kukoc of Croatia, who famously was a foil of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen at the Barcelona Games, and Angola's Herlander Coimba, who infamously was elbowed by Barkley in the United States team's opening game in Barcelona.

Barkley is entertaining as always in his retrospective interview, but never moreso than in vintage snippets from 1992. Asked about U.S. coach Chuck Daly's challenge of coaching a team of huge egos and personalities, Barkley said, 'He coached the Bad Boys. If he can coach those [knuckleheads], he can coach anybody.'''

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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