NBA playoff predictions

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NBA playoff predictions

Quick show of hands: Who loves predictions? Prognosticating the playoffs in advance might be an easier task than predicting the end result before the season even begins, but the NBA postseason is always unpredictable and with fears of ragged play after the lockout being unfounded, it's shaping up to be, as Joakim Noah likes to say, "an exciting time."Speaking of Noah's Bulls, before getting into league-wide predictions, it's an all-or-nothing proposition, as fans want to know if this is the year the team breaks the title drought that's plagued it since the Jordan era. Well, Derrick Rose's return and a fully-intact roster certainly help, but the added motivation of Sixers swingman Evan Turner's comments -- in case you've been living under a rock, the second-year pro and Chicago native said Philadelphia is "dodging the tougher team" by taking on the Bulls, instead of the Heat -- is what could push them over the edge.Not that the Bulls are undergoing some kind of internal team turmoil, but with their relative struggles in April, it appeared that they were in a bit of a malaise, at least for them, and needed a fire lit under them. Now, they'll claim they don't need any outside motivation, but after being informed of Turner's comments, to a man, it was evident that the perceived disrespect touched a nerve.Expect the Bulls to dispatch the Sixers in quick fashion. If Rose uses that series to get in rhythm, it should carry over to a potential second-round series with the Celtics, who are playing well at the right time, but struggle with the Bulls' size and frankly, can't beat the Bulls in a seven-game series if Rose is even a semblance of his former self, despite their championship experience, as Rip Hamilton's recent groove, as well as the Bulls' lack of fear -- stemming from their epic first-round series of a few years back -- make the aging squad bait. Then, unless Central Division rival Indiana pulls a shocker and upsets the Heat in an expected second-round matchup, comes Miami.After last week's road loss, in which the Heat played a surprisingly physical brand of basketball, many gave Miami an edge over the Bulls, seeing it as a foreshadowing of the future. However, examining the Bulls on a nightly basis in Tom Thibodeau's two-year tenure as head coach, that performance was an aberration and after receiving so much scrutiny for their passivity, it's unlikely that recent history repeat itself.Therefore, ditto for the potential series in general, as the two insults -- Turner's verbal slight and the perception that the Bulls are somehow a soft team -- will ramp up their intensity even further, resulting in no more uncontested drives for MVP frontrunner LeBron James or All-Star sidekick Dwyane Wade. It won't be easy, but if Rose is back in the swing of things by then, which will be needed to advance to that point anyway, and his supporting cast utilizes the confidence gained from posting an 18-9 record without him this season, vengeance will be Chicago's.In the NBA Finals, the wide-open West is hard to predict. UnlessThunder guard James Harden, the NBA's likely Sixth Man of the Year award winner, doesn't recover effectively from a concussion suffered after the elbow heard around the world from Lakers forward Ron Artest, Oklahoma City should make it to the championship round. The top-seeded Spurs, regardless of how impressive they've been all season -- if they manage to get by the Clippers or Grizzlies, who ousted them a year ago, in the second round -- might not be able to contend with the younger team's combination of interior size and two-headed scoring duo of All-Star point guard Ruseell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who recently won an unprecedented third consecutive league scoring title. If that plays out, the Bulls will again have revenge on their minds after being throttled at Oklahoma City, sans Rose, earlier this month and while the Thunder are indeed talented, the Bulls' defensive mentality should prove the old adage, "defense wins championships" to be correct.So while nothing's guaranteed, if the Bulls win it all, one thing is for sure: Turner should be lauded in his hometown for providing the Bulls with an added boost that should serve them well as the playoffs begin. He just won't feel the love come Saturday, when the series opens.Predictions:No. 1 Bulls vs. No. 8 76ers: Bulls in five games.Why? All of the above.No. 2 Heat vs. No. 7 Knicks: Heat in six.Why? Miami certainly drew the short end of the stick by having to face New York, but while Carmelo Anthony, a much-improved defense and the Knicks' overall offensive firepower -- Amar'e Stoudemire looked good in the season finale -- will be issues, the Heat's overall talent reigns supreme. Also, LeBron James loves playing at Madison Square Garden.No. 3 Pacers vs. No. 6 Magic: Pacers in five.Why? Indiana's burgeoning confidence and playoff experience from a year ago will come into play against a reeling, short-handed Orlando team that simply doesn't match up well with them. Expect the Pacers to pound the Magic inside with the absence of All-Star center Dwight Howard.No. 4 Hawks vs. No. 5 Celtics: Celtics in five.Why? Boston ended the regular season on a roll and although future Hall of Famer Ray Allen is currently banged up, Atlanta just doesn't have enough weapons, especially with star big man Al Horford still on the shelf. Look for superstar point guard Rajon Rondo and the remaining "Big Two" of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to dominate.No. 1 Spurs vs. No. 8 Jazz: Spurs in five.Why? San Antonio's additions have made them a much deeper team, but it's the veteran core of Tony Parker, Manu Ginbili and Tim Duncan that will be the key against a young Utah squad. While the Jazz have a nice collection of size and young talent, the Spurs will be too much for them.No. 2 Thunder vs. No. 7 Mavericks: Thunder in five.Why? Oklahoma City has something to prove and opening the playoffs against defending-champion Dallas, the team that ousted them last postseason, will get them off to a strong start. The Thunder duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is a less than ideal dilemma for the Mavericks to handle without Tyson Chandler anchoring their defense.No. 3 Lakers vs. No. 6 Nuggets: Lakers in seven.Why? This series is a bit of a toss-up, but the Lakers' experience should prevail against a young, deep and talented Nuggets team. If Denver can get the Lakers into a transition game, that spells trouble, but Kobe Bryant seems determined not to let his team get embarrassed two springs in a row.No. 4 Grizzlies vs. No. 5 Clippers: Grizzlies in six.Why? Memphis getting home-court advantage was significant, as it will be tough for the Clippers to win in the "Grind House," and as much as Chris Paul has turned the franchise's fortunes around, the size and physical style of the Grizzlies will take a toll on high-flying Blake Griffin. Paul will have to be at his absolute best for the Clippers to have a chance.Eastern Conference semifinals:Bulls vs. Celtics: Bulls in six.Why? To paraphrase Bulls announcer Stacey King, the Bulls are too big, too strong, too deep and too good for the Celtics. Now equipped with the experience of a deep playoff run and Rip Hamilton to counter longtime nemesis Ray Allen, Boston just doesn't have any advantages over Chicago, and if Rose has found his stride, it might get ugly.Heat vs. Pacers: Heat in seven.Why? This series will be tougher than expected for the Heat, as the Pacers have a significant advantage at center with All-Star Roy Hibbert and match up at other positions -- Danny Granger and Paul George on the wing, David West and Tyler Hansbrough at power forward, the guard trio of George Hill, Darren Collison and Leandro Barbosa -- but Miami's star power should pull it out. James and Dwyane Wade will need to play at a high level, but Chris Bosh's role might be even more important.Western Conference semifinals:Spurs vs. Grizzlies: Spurs in seven.Why? On paper, the Grizzlies should win this series, since like last year, their combination of size, athleticism and defensive-minded style of play is a tough matchup for the Spurs, particularly with Zach Randolph back in the lineup. However, after getting upset by Memphis last spring, and having a healthy Ginobili to counter Rudy Gay being back in the fold, San Antonio will be desperate to avoid getting stunned again, meaning Parker will have to decisively win his battle with Mike Conley.Thunder vs. Lakers: Thunder in six.Why? This might be the best series of the round, especially if Metta World Peace is back from his suspension for elbowing Thunder sixth man James Harden. The Bryant-Durant scoring battle will also be closely scrutinized, but the Lakers' hopes depend on the effectiveness of point-guard acquisition Ramon Sessions against Westbrook, as well as how Oklahoma City interior defenders Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka fare against Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.Eastern Conference finals:Bulls vs. Heat: Bulls in seven.Why? The Bulls' fate might actually depend on the previous round, as they would gain an edge if they can dispatch a smallish Celtics team quickly and a more physical Pacers squad beats up the Heat. Both teams have plenty of motivation -- Miami to win the first of many titles promised two summers ago and Chicago simply vanquishing a villain--but the confidence the Bulls gained from beating the Heat twice while short-handed in the regular season should pay off and Rose has been anticipating this moment for nearly a year now.Western Conference finals:Spurs vs. Thunder: Thunder in seven.Why? A tough series with the Grizzlies could truly take a toll on on aging Spurs team and the youthful Thunder are far from the elixir they need to recover. Durant is virtually unguardable in general, but San Antonio doesn't have anyone who matches up remotely well with the league scoring champ and after Oklahoma City advanced to the same point last postseason, their veteran experience against superior talent might not matter this time around.NBA Finals:Bulls vs. Thunder: Bulls in six.Why? After being demolished at Oklahoma City early this month, the Bulls will still have a sour taste in their mouths and with Rose back in the lineup to match up with his close friend Westbrook, the odds will be evened. However, expect Chicago's defense to clamp down on Durant much more and the Thunder's lack of balanced scoring might finally catch up to them, leading to another parade in Grant Park.

Bulls beat lifeless Pistons

Bulls beat lifeless Pistons

The Pistons looked to the worst possible matchup on the worst night of the season for the Bulls, as they were light at the center position and facing Andre Drummond, a man who has given the Bulls the business during their better days.

But the Pistons seemed to be the best opponent on the second night of a back-to-back, as they seemed dispirited and dead-legged, with the Bulls taking full advantage in their 117-95 win at the United Center Wednesday night.

The win ties the two rivals with 34-38 records, looking on the outside in at the Eastern Conference playoff race with 10 games left.

Both came into the game smarting from road losses the night before, with the Pistons falling to the lowly Brooklyn Nets at the buzzer in Brooklyn and the Bulls losing a 15-point fourth quarter lead to the Raptors, dropping the contest in overtime.

There would be no such suspense on this night, as the Pistons offered little resistance and seemed to be a bit lifeless for most of the evening, despite the prodding from coach Stan Van Gundy.

With Robin Lopez out with a suspension stemming from Tuesday's swing-and-miss exercise with Serge Ibaka and Cristiano Felicio being out with a lower back injury, Drummond was expected to dominate, already having three 20-20 games against the Bulls on his ledger.

He grabbed 17 rebounds but only scored eight points as the Pistons shot 44 percent from the field. The Pistons' only signs of life came from Stanley Johnson (12 points) and Jon Leuer (13 points), who came off the bench in the late first quarter and early second to bring the game to a two-point margin before the half at 55-53.

But the Bulls took the fight from the Pistons early in the second half and made their separation in the third quarter with a decisive 32-20 run, as Nikola Mirotic scored 12 of his season-high 28 points in the period, hitting 12 of 15 shots from the field.

Mirotic, if it carries over, could point to this game as the one that turned his season around at the right time. He was aggressive against Tobias Harris and hit four triples as the Bulls were nine of 20 from long range, proving they didn't have a hangover from their heartbreaker the night before.

Even without their lane cloggers, the Bulls lived in the paint, taking a 21-point lead due to scoring 48 points in the paint and moving the ball to the tune of 28 assists on their first 37 field goals.

Unlike the fourth quarter against the Raptors, the Bulls didn't have to worry about a late surge as the Pistons rested their regulars relatively early, waiving the white flag as the Bulls shot close to 60 percent.

Jimmy Butler was perfect from the field in 34 easy minutes, going six-for-six with 16 points, 12 assists and five rebounds. Rajon Rondo added nine assists of his own as he was the only starter who didn't reach double figures in scoring.

He didn't need to, as the game served as a confidence-builder for Mirotic, Bobby Portis and Joffrey Lauvergne, the man who started in Lopez's stead.

Although giving up plenty in size and skill to Drummond, he pulled him to the perimeter and even found gold inside to score 17 with seven rebounds in his best performance as a Bull since being involved in the trade involving Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott at the deadline.

If the Bulls play like this every night before April 12, they could find their way to the postseason, but if they played like this before tonight, a playoff spot would've already been assured.

David DeJesus Q&A: New CSN Cubs analyst on retirement, Anthony Rizzo and Joe Maddon

David DeJesus Q&A: New CSN Cubs analyst on retirement, Anthony Rizzo and Joe Maddon

MESA, Ariz. — David DeJesus felt a sense of calm on Wednesday when he hit send on his Twitter account, announcing his retirement as a professional baseball player and promoting his new gig as a Cubs analyst for CSN Chicago.

DeJesus will appear across multiple platforms, bringing the perspective of someone who got in on the ground floor of the Wrigleyville rebuild, mentored Anthony Rizzo during the 101- and 96-loss seasons and appreciated Joe Maddon's laissez-faire style with Tampa Bay.

After being a go-to guy for reporters on some intentionally bad teams in 2012 and 2013, DeJesus talked about how his TV deal came together, the jarring nature of this business and his overall impressions of the Cubs:

Q: All along, were you planning to pivot and move into the media?

A: "Three years ago, I would tell you there would be no chance. But in late December, Kap (CSN's David Kaplan) gave me a call. I was still getting ready for spring training. My hip injury was healing, so I was really focused on that. Todd (Hollandsworth) just left (for Fox Sports Florida). There's a spot open right now. (Kaplan) asked: 'Do you mind me throwing your name in the mix?'

"I really didn't think anything was going to come of it, because I wasn't really pursuing it at all. Like two days later, I (interviewed with CSN). It was a waiting game and next thing you know — boom! — all right, you're our guy.

"So now it came to the point where I had to make a decision: Am I going to keep following a baseball career where I'm coming off an injury at 37 years old? Or do I turn the page and start a new chapter in my life?"

Q: Was not playing last year specifically a physical issue or more about the mental grind?

A: "At the end of the 2015 season, I went to the Angels and I did terrible there. After the season, I went to the doc and I had a 50 percent torn labrum in my left hip and there was a cyst in there. So any time I tried to sit on my back leg ... I just couldn't do anything.

"(I figured): Let me give myself some time away from baseball, hang out with my son, be a dad for a little bit. But in the back of my mind, I'm going to still try for spring training this year.

"The reality was: All right, no one's calling. You're getting older. Injuries have crept into my career and you missed the whole season.

"And then this job popped. It was a godsend, because I was praying about what's next. Every baseball player has the what's-next moment. I'm fortunate enough that mine wasn't that long."

Q: Could you explain how weird or abrupt that feeling is after playing 13 years in the big leagues and being so structured?

A: "It's crazy, because you expect a team to call. You expect a team to just give you an invite. When your agent stops calling you, your phone stops ringing, it's a real humbling moment. I needed to have that time to really mentally and physically separate myself from the game.

"I needed to dig into: Who am I? I had to answer those questions. Am I just a baseball player? Or am I someone who can still stay in the game somehow?

"This job fell into my lap where I can still be a part of a team and still be in baseball, but on the other side of the camera."

Q: Where were you when the Cubs won the World Series?

A: "My wife doesn't watch too much baseball, but once that postseason comes along, that's when you start seeing some tweets about the Cubs.

"We moved out to California, and over there sports really get lost. You can go to the beach. There's just so much to do. We were just living life. But then the World Series came, and that's still a team that's in both of our hearts. That was my first big-market team — and what I feel is the classiest organization in MLB. We both have ties there. We still have our house there.

"Seeing them win it, I was like a (proud) older brother. I was there when teams were just stomping all over us, just beating us down badly. And to see them winning the World Series five years later, it's like: 'Yes!'"

Q: We used to see Rizzo following you around like a puppy dog during spring training: What did you try to teach him?

A: "I wanted him to have a routine. Get yourself something that you can rely on each and every day to get your body ready for the game, mentally and physically, because we knew he had the talent. He just needed to find his place.

"He struggled in San Diego and I think he needed confidence, that daily confidence to know: 'OK, I've prepared myself for the game and now I'm just going to go out there and play it. Let my skills shine.'"

Q: As one of the first guys signed by the Theo Epstein regime, what do you remember from that free-agent process and the recruiting pitch?

A: "(In Boston, they) were trying to (acquire) me a few years earlier, before I injured my thumb in 2010 with the Kansas City Royals. So they knew the type of player I was. They wanted to change the atmosphere inside the clubhouse, bringing in guys that are team-oriented and can play the game as well. I think that's what they saw in me — a veteran leader that can show guys the right way and be a truthful and honest person inside and outside the clubhouse."

Q: What made Maddon such a good fit for this Cubs team?

A: "The looseness. Joe gives the reins to the players. He lets the players patrol themselves. He doesn't get into all the little things, all the rules. He had two rules: Run the ball out and be sexy.

"Play sexy? As a player, how do you not like that? It's unbelievable that he gets away with that. When you're on other teams playing against Joe Maddon teams, you're always like: 'Dude, why are these guys enjoying themselves (so much)?'

"That's what you saw last year. These guys were having fun. The players made the clubhouse. That's the special thing about Joe. He (gives) the players the freedom to be who they are."

Q: Looking back on your time with Tampa Bay, what would your 'best' and 'worst' lists look like in terms of Maddon's stunts?

A: "I liked his Miami all-white dress-up (trip). You feel like you're in 'Miami Vice' walking off the plane. The other one I remember (was when) we were struggling with our bats, so he brought in this like Native American rain man, thinking the water sprinkled in our dugout would wake up our bats. But the only thing it did was it poured nonstop for three days outside the stadium. So it did bring rain, but it didn't do anything for our bats at all."

Q: Were you surprised at the backlash over how Maddon managed during the World Series?

A: "It comes with the territory, man. Being a manager, you have to make tough moves at times. Not everyone's going to be behind you. In any job, in any leadership role, there is going to be backlash. There is going to be people that love you. And there is going to be people that hate you.

"Joe handles it the right way: 'Hey, man, we won the championship.' That's the ultimate goal — to win the championship. In my opinion, there were some things there. Come on, (Aroldis) Chapman? I think we all saw it.

"But at the end of the day, they have the World Series trophy back in Chicago. Come on, we're looking too hard to find stuff sometimes."

Q: In this job, have you prepared yourself for the times where you might have to criticize people you've worked with before?

A: "That's the question that everyone's asked. It's a very good question, because that, in my opinion, is going to be the toughest part, when that first moment comes. But I've talked to Todd and other guys who've just started in (the business). It's part of the game. But I'm going to wrap it in love.

"I'm going to (say): 'You shouldn't have done this.' But let's try to make it a teaching moment for the fans. It's not about calling guys out as a human being, as a person. We're just calling out what we saw on the baseball field. That's it."