Sometimes it's all about the game within the game. In Miami on Saturday, the game was called free throws, and the Bulls were routed.
Heat win game on the line
Chicago was outpaced 39 to 17 in free-throw attempts in their 111-106 Game 1 defeat against the Heat, which explains how the Bulls faltered despite making more field goals, grabbing more offensive rebounds, committing fewer turnover and shooting 13-of-26 on 3-pointers.
Unfortunately, Chicago's tendency to foul and inability to get fouled undid all the good it did in other facets of the game. Miami had a 19-point advantage at the free-throw line, with Dwyane Wade (14-of-16) doing most of the damage. The Bulls also out-fouled Miami 30 to 20, with both Tyson Chandler and Kirk Hinrich fouling out in the game's final minutes.
The free-throw trend was hardly unexpected. I was in Bristol covering this game for ESPN360, and one of the things we talked about beforehand was how Chicago had been one of the league's most foul-prone teams, while Miami was one of the top teams at drawing fouls.
Miami averaged .364 free throws per field-goal attempt, the sixth-best rate in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Bulls' opponents averaged .379 foul shots per field-goal attempt, the fourth-worst rate in the league and the worst among playoff teams.
At the other end of the court, Chicago had the opposite problem. As a guard-oriented, jump-shooting offense, the Bulls were one of the worst teams in the league at drawing fouls. In fact, Chicago's rate of .296 free throws per field-goal attempt was the second worst in basketball.
Even by the standards of the two team's seasons, however, Saturday's results were eye-opening. Miami won thanks to a whopping .506 free throws per field-goal attempt, while Chicago could muster only .193 on their end -- barely one-third the rate the Heat achieved. Even that mark was possible thanks only to Udonis Haslem's technical foul and ejection.
As a result, the Bulls wasted a golden opportunity. They got a brilliant game from Ben Gordon (35 points), a gift in the form of Haslem's ejection, and an uncharacteristic 17 turnovers by the Heat, and still couldn't take advantage.
The one silver lining for Chicago is that the Bulls may have found a weakness they can further expose in Game 2. Once Haslem was ejected, the Bulls played most of the second half with a small lineup featuring guards Gordon, Kirk Hinrich and Chris Duhon. At one point, in fact, Bulls coach Scott Skiles was using Luol Deng as his center, and it was that small lineup that allowed Chicago to briefly regain the lead in the fourth quarter. Overall, Chicago won the second half 55-48, and Skiles deserves credit for making a brilliant adjustment to Haslems' absence.
All that might be strictly an academic exercise, except that there's a strong possibility Haslem will be suspended for Game 2 after winging his mouthpiece at referee Joey Crawford late in the first half. With Alonzo Mourning already out, that would leave Miami quite shorthanded in the frontcourt and enable Skiles to play his small lineup with impunity.
For at least a night, that could give Chicago an advantage that momentarily allows it to even the series. But over the course of seven games, Game 1 showed that the Bulls have a serious problem. Unless they can keep the free-throw battle parity, Chicago has little chance of seriously threatening Miami. If the opener is any indication, the Bulls' odds of doing so are slim.
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AP Photo/Eric Gay
The champs knocked off work early Saturday. Manu Ginobili (center), with Robert Horry (left) and Michael Finley, set the tone early with an elbow to the face of Ron Artest followed by a series of dynamic drives to the basket. The Spurs raced to a 73-39 halftime lead and then found other ways to amuse themselves.
They say it's healthier to talk out your issues than harbor them, and the Clippers' last-minute 89-87 opening-round win over the Nuggets would be proof positive of that.
Playoff teams don't generally nitpick each other's mistakes for all to see and hear. You might excuse the red-white-and-blue squad from L.A. for being an exception because the postseason stuff is new territory, but the Prince of Harangues is oldest playoff hand they have, Sam Cassell. If he wasn't orally cuffing Chris Kaman's ears for fumbling a pass last night he was jumping Quinton Ross for an ill-fated foray down the baseline that allowed the Nuggets to tie the game.
Shaun Livingston, being tutored by Cassell in the art of leading a team, took his turn getting on the team's backup center, Zeljko Rebraca.
Then there's coach Mike Dunleavy, who tries to be more discreet but invariably gets caught on camera saying something that at least appears to be derisive, coming out of the side of his mouth and all, to one of his assistants right after any Clipper mistake. Something you can bet the relatives at home -- what was that, Mrs. Maggette? -- are duly tracking and reporting back to their maligned blood.
But I'm not here to debate if Dunleavy is wrong or if Cassell was justified or if his veteran status earns him the right to publicly calls guy out when he sees fit. Truth is, whatever differences the Clippers have don't seem to get in the way of playing together. Cassell still feeds Kaman when he's open in the post and Kaman still sets solid screens to get Sam free. Livingston still found Rebraca with a nice no-look on a breakaway. And Dunleavy doesn't seem to doghouse anyone outside of, well, Maggette.
The same can't be said for the Nuggets.
Kenyon Martin sat for long stretches, and we all know he and George Karl aren't exchanging Christmas cards these days.
And by the time we got to the final possession last night, the Nuggets needing a basket to force overtime and a three to steal homecourt advantage, you also knew that Earl Boykins could've had a trough set up to roll the ball into the basket and Carmelo Anthony was not going to give it to him.
Throw the ball to Greg Buckner? As the team's best three-point shooter at 35.4, sure, as Melo did several times. Or Kenyon Martin? As the big man who isn't any happier than Anthony that the team's point guards, Andre Miller and Boykins, are more scorers than dishers, OK.
But Boykins, the team's third-best three-point shooter (at 34.6) who has made more than a few big 3s in his time in Denver? Wide open at the top of the arc, his man helping to pin Anthony on the baseline? Not a chance.
I'm all for Anthony demanding the ball, attacking the Clippers' defense and looking every which way to get his shot. He's demonstrated he can make those shots as consistently as anyone in the league and he's right there with LeBron in his ability to create a shot. But in the final minutes L.A. swarmed him with the confidence the ball wasn't going anywhere else and he didn't get a single clean look. Check that -- Boykins' man aggressively swarmed him, if he was anywhere in the vicinity. That's not aggressively gutsy, that's aggressively blind.
It didn't even look as if Anthony was all that happy receiving an entry pass on the post from Boykins, perhaps because that may be the most challenging trick for someone at 5-5, other than defensively rotating down to box out the 7-foot Kaman. By the time 'Melo got the ball, he was about five feet farther away from the block than he would've preferred. And, perhaps as punishment, when he finally did get the ball, he kicked it back out to Boykins to either re-post or shoot, uh, never.
This, of course, is not something new, but I was told a month or so ago by team sources that the issues had disappeared. Well, they're back. Not for all to hear, the way the Clippers and Dr. Phil do it -- but certainly to see. And right now, it doesn't look pretty.
-- Ric Bucher, ESPN The Magazine
Where have we seen this guy before? Who is he?
Is he Magic? Oscar? Jerry? Michael? Can he be defined?
Maybe not. LeBron James is a one-of-a-kind player with the size of Magic, the strength of Oscar, the instincts of Jerry and Michael's leadership abilities.
Case in point on the MJ comparison: There was a play late in the third quarter, where LeBron drove the lane and, after drawing several Wizard defenders, dropped the ball off to Donyell Marshall for a wide-open layup. But Marshall badly missed the layup.
Marshall tried to laugh it off, but LeBron was not amused and fired a nasty scowl in Donyell's direction. LeBron had seen the Cavs' lead slip from 19 to 13 and was not finding humor in the situation.
Michael would have done the same thing. Michael had no patience for that kind of thing, especially the laughing-it-off part.
Here's where LeBron is different: Michael doesn't give Marshall another chance. LeBron does.
While LeBron is tough on teammates, he's not Michael-tough on them. LeBron has a different way. He includes them, gives them a second chance, and at times he defers to them.
So, maybe that's who he is. LeBron is a superstar who trusts his teammates and that trust might take the Cavs higher that we could imagine.
-- ESPN Insider Will Perdue, from The Q in Cleveland
After the Bulls took a fourth-quarter lead in Miami, Wade responded with six straight points on his way to a 14-point quarter and 30-point night in the Heat's Game 1 win.
Like Magic, LeBron James began his playoff career with a triple-double, in the Cavs' 97-86 win over the Wizards. One of LeBron's 11 dimes was a Magic-style no-looker to set up a slashing Flip Murray.
Quote of the Day
-- Royce Webb
Carmelo Anthony went 0-for-8 from the floor in the fourth quarter in the Nuggets' loss.
That's Anthony's biggest fourth-quarter 0-for in any game as a professional in either the regular season or postseason.
His previous largest was 0-for-6 on Dec. 30, 2003.
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Excerpted from the Scouts Inc. scouting report of the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Phoenix Suns.
Center: Boris Diaw vs. Kwame Brown
Suns: Boris Diaw is one of the least likely players to play the center position in the NBA.
His greatest attribute is his passing -- at one point Diaw was thought to be too unselfish, but he has fit perfectly with the Suns. When he goes to the basket he never seems to give up on the idea of making one last pass and his teammates look to benefit from that.
Diaw has started to take more outside shots, which will make his game that much harder to defend.
Diaw is not really a player in the middle that will change shots, but he is active and will beat most centers down the court.
Lakers: Kwame Brown has improved as the season has progressed. His scoring, rebounding, assists and field-goal shooting percentages all are up in the second half of the season.
Brown has a bad tendency of floating at times: He will forget to make a cut, or lose his man on defense. You just realize he might never really "get it." Laker teammates have been reluctant to pass to him during games because of his passiveness and the fact he can't hold onto the ball.Advantage: Suns Scouts Inc. on East:
• MIL-DET | CHI-MIA | IND-NJ | WAS-CLE
Scouts Inc. on West:
• SAC-SA | LAL-PHX | LAC-DEN | MEM-DAL
Excerpted from Chris Sheridan's Sunday Viewer's Guide:
Pacers at Nets, 1 ET, TNT
Lakers at Suns, 3:30 ET, ABC
Bucks at Pistons, 7 ET, TNT
Grizzlies at Mavericks, 9:30 ET, TNT