The Hardwood Nation, No Bias, No Spin, Just Basketball

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Bulls Pound Nets, 113-86 in Brooklyn

The contest was so lop-sided, Derrick Rose got rest in the 4th quarter, as Chicago played one its better games on the road of late.

Nikola Mirotic had it going and hit on 6 of 11 long-distance shots for a team high 26 points and the Bulls coasted to a emphatic road win, 113-86 in Brooklyn.

The Nets had a lot to play for with its playoff hopes in the balance but the Bulls were up to the task, taking a 87-65 lead heading into the 4th quarter. Pau Gasol had another double-double, scoring 22 points and hauling in 11 rebounds. Taj Gibson, filling in for Joakim Noah who took the night off, had another solid effort, scoring 15 points and grabbing 9 boards.  Jimmy Butler scored 17 points with an excellent floor game.

The Bulls had 26 assists and just 7 turnovers. If that trend continues, they will be tough to play in the first-round of the playoffs.

The win clinched home-court in the first-round of the upcoming playoffs. With Toronto idle, the Bulls took a slim half-game lead for third place in the Eastern Conference.

After the game, Coach Tom Thibodeau was pleased with the Bulls effort.  "It's an improvement," said the head coach.

Rose played 23+ minutes and scored 13 points with 7 assists. He also hit two treys for the night. But it was the rookie Mirotic who had the hot-hand, finding the range on a series of floating three-point attempts.

The Nets were never a threat in this game -- the Bulls made sure of that with a 30-15 third quarter.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Gasol, Rose, Help Bulls Fend off Philly, 114-107

Derrick Rose played his best game since returning from a knee injury and the Chicago Bulls needed it.

Rose scored on a variety of patented moves to show that he still has it. This has to be heartening to Chicago Bulls fans. Rose shook off a slow start and scored 22 points, the majority coming in the second half, and Chicago was able to hold off a young, upstart team, beset by injuries. Three starters, including Norlens Noel, center, sat on the bench.

Pau Gasol lead Chicago with another double-double, 24 points and 13 boards. Rose had 8 assists and no turnovers to go with his 22 points. Mike Dunleavy and Taj Gibson added 13 points and the Bulls came away with  a 114-107 win down the stretch of the regular season.

The win allows Chicago to keep pace with Toronto which also won last night. The Bulls and Raptors are tied for third place in Conference seeding. However, the Raptors would win the tie-breaker because they are Division champs.  Chicago has a 48-32 record, two wins shy of 50 with two games to play in the regular season. Their next game is against Brooklyn, one of the hottest clubs in the Eastern Conference, who have made a late playoff push.

The 76'ers were lead by Robert Covington's 22 points. J. Richardson scored 19 and Jakarr Sampson tallied 18.  Sampson is a former St. John's University stand-out who is seeking more playing time. He made the best of his opportunity.

The story here was the play of D Rose. It appears he is on the way back from his latest knee injury setback. He displayed some of his old moves to the hoop to the delight of the partisan crowd at the United Center.  Hopefully his knee will respond well after the game.

If Rose can play aggressively, Chicago could well be a threat in the playoffs.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Lauren Hill, Mt. St. Joseph's Basketall Player Dies of Brain Cancer

I was moved when I saw the image of Lauren Hill scoring a basket before a packed crowd in Cincinnati, Ohio earlier this year. Hill, 19, was battling a rare form of brain cancer, that took her life.  Hill played in a handful of games for Mt. St. Joseph's, a small liberal arts college in Cincinnati.  She scored 10 points in her career, yet the way she handled her illness, puts her on the All-Star team.

Hill had a "never quit" attitude. As her disease slowly prevented her body from functioning, she still made a great impact in her community and affected millions of people in her home state and across the nation.

In battling terminal cancer, she taught many people how to live in the face of adversity. When she found out she had an inoperable cancer, she decided to raise money to fund research.  So, this past December, she reached her goal of $1 million dollars and thousands came in afterwards. People listened and cared.

Lebron James, perhaps the greatest player in the NBA, heard about Lauren and became a fan, sending her one of his shoes, and some earphones. She joked about the shoe size, saying "one shoe was enough, because it's too big for her."  Lebron tweeted an open message to her today saying his late Grandma knows of her because they've talked about her. "Say hi to Grandma," he wrote.

She loved the game of basketball and when she couldn't play anymore she became an honorary coach on her team. A determined young woman impacted so many people in her short time on earth.

Yes, she is an All-Star.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

ICYMI: Bulls Blow 15 Point Lead; Fall to Magic on late Shot, 105-103

The Chicago Bulls lost a tough one to the Orlando Magic when G Victor Oladipo drove through the middle of the Bulls defense to score on a layup with 1.5 seconds left. The Magic stunned Chicago, 105-103.

Here are my observations about this game and the implications it might have.

Those close to the team and Rose himself expressed concern about the play of the Bulls vs. the Magic.

Stacy King, former Bulls player and now TV color man, said, the Bulls needs to emphasize "execution and defense."  "The took their foot off the accelerator" and let the Magic get back in the game, King noted.  You can't give a young athletic team a chance.  They played tough and the Bulls appeared to be soft exactly when it called for them be on purpose, playing with intensity.

In other years, on other Bulls teams, this loss would be inconceivable. The Bulls played almost suffocating defense, tight defense... and made you pay if you even dared to get close to the rim. Now, it was an open drive to the tin that did the Bulls in and spoiled Derrick Rose's return to playing time.

As we move toward the playoffs, the Bulls are tied with the Raptors for the 3rd seed, and have a game lead over the re-rejuvenated Washington Wizards.  If Washington finishes in the 4th seed they would have home court advantage and the Bulls might have an early exit in April.

It is a fragile situation for Chicago. King said, the Bulls have to play tougher, more focused basketball. That is a trait that other Thibodeau coached teams had.  This one might have the talent, yet lack the drive. In this league, you can't win on talent alone.

Reporters asked Rose a lot of questions about his health. He responded by saying,"I'm more concerned with us losing than anything."

It would be disappointing to see an early exit by the Bulls with a healthy Rose playing. But that looks more of a possibility than it did before.

Regardless of record, the Spurs should be favored to win the NBA title

     The San Antonio Spurs have now won nine straight games and only are half a game back of the #3 seeded Houston Rockets. While the Golden State Warriors have rightfully stolen the show for the regular season, the San Antonio Spurs appear poised to steal the show in the playoffs and repeat as NBA champions.

     What is especially alarming about their winning streak is that they've beaten some really good teams and in the process gained some serious ground in the standings. The Spurs have beaten the Thunder, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Warriors, and Rockets over these last nine games, and as a result look likely to have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

     The only thing that other teams in the West could hang their hat on before this streak began was that the Spurs would likely have to go on the road to win every series they played. Not that the Spurs can't win a series without home court advantage, but having to win four straight series' without home court advantage is too tall of an order for even the best of NBA teams.

      But now that the Spurs look likely to enter the playoffs with a really good seed, there really is no reason to pick against them. They are playing really good basketball, beating really good teams, and seem to be peaking at the right time. The only thing that can stand in the way of the Spurs and another NBA title is injuries. Tony Parker has experienced some tightness in his Achilles, which is scary for the Spurs, but so far he appears to be ok. So long as nothing catastrophic happens to Parker or any other key member on this Spurs team, they have to be considered the favorite to come out of the West and win the NBA championship.

     We would be fools to doubt their ability to win it all after seeing how they torched the Heat less than one year ago. I'm not saying the Warriors can't take out the Spurs or that they shouldn't have confidence to beat the Spurs, because they should. But if we are using history as a guide, we have to look at how the Spurs are playing right now as an indicator that they are likely to come out of the West and demolish whichever team it is that they face in the NBA Finals.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Gasol's Late Bucket Helps Bulls to 88-82 Win vs. Pistons

This was a back and forth game that shouldn't have been so hard. But credit the peaky Pistons, who will likely not make the playoffs.  They fought the Bulls tooth and nail at the United Center, and the Bulls made the key play with seconds left to secure the win.

Pau Gasol had 26 points and 10 rebounds for his 50th double double of the season. It was Gasol's tip in off a Taj Gibson miss with 5.7 ticks left that helped secure the win. Gasol was fouled by Andre Drummond, who had a great night for Detroit. Drummond finished with 14 points and hauled in 22 rebounds

Detroit was held to a season low 9 points in the second quarter yet found a way to stay in the game.
Mainly due to Chicago's poor offense; Chicago had 12 points in the third frame.  The Bulls shot 38.8 percent from the field.  Jimmy Butler scored 18 points on 6 of 16 attempts. Taj Gibson scored 10, 8 in the first half. Nikola Miritoc had 11 points for the Bulls but it was Gasol who came up big to keep the Bulls one game ahead of Toronto for the 3rd playoff seed.  It looks like the final determination of seeding won't be set until the season ends. The Bulls have a 46-30 record and the Raptors are 45-31.

Drummond's night gave him 1000 points, 1000 rebounds, and 100 blocks for the second straight seasons. No other player has done that in Franchise history.

Joakim Noah had 9 rebounds, 10 assists and 6 points in 28+ minutes, also was key to the win.

"It was an ugly win and we found a way," Noah said. "That's important.."

It was a back and forth affair until late in the 4th quarter when Gasol made an effort play and it paid off.

Nothing has been handed to Chicago.  They are going to have to go out and take it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Shaquille O'Neal: Back where it all Began

I know it has been a long time since I written a piece, I’m a busy guy you know. But let me crack my fingers and get to typing these thoughts that are on my mind. Sometime early in March, The Orlando Magic announced that there would be a third individual that would be inducted into their Hall of Fame. Pat Williams who was there already deserves to be there as he brought Basketball to the Central Florida area and is known as the Orlando Magic “Good Luck charm” winning the draft lotteries in the early 90’s to be 1992 and 1993 to be exact. Nick Anderson deserved his spot for being the first pick in franchise history and being the Ambassador of the team and staying heavily involved in the Central Florida community. Shaquille O’Neal was announced as the third individual to be inducted this past Friday at the Amway Center in front of Magic fans that once adored the big fella down the street at the “O-Rena” in years past.

Listen, I was mad that he was getting recognized for his short stint with the Magic. Shaquille O’Neal put Orlando on the map, more like if you was in another planet with a telescope and zoomed in on the Southeastern part of the U.S.A. you would hear the arena rocking back in the days. This physical specimen teamed with another ultra-star in Penny Hardaway a year later in the 1993 draft after Magic traded away Chris Webber rights to acquire Hardaway.  O'Neal told management that Penny was the guy after being on set with him while filming Blue Chips and they proceeded to get the duo paired with some young talent in Nick Anderson, Dennis Scott and Brian Shaw to name a few. Orlando was the place to be, the team to root for. A Ton of Magic Jerseys were on display in the Tootsie Roll video and a lot people say to this day that those were one of the best jerseys to have. If there was a team that could compete with Jordan and Pippen and the rest of the Talented Bulls squad in the East , Orlando was that team.

Excuse me while I go down memory lane, guess you call that a throwback Thursday nowadays. This Magic team was stacked, fun to watch and literally had Magic fans were thinking of a Dynasty on Horizon. To keep this short, because this is where my memories come back to haunt me, swept by the underdog Houston Rockets in the 1995 NBA Finals. 1996 the Chicago Bulls were near flawless with their 72-10 record swept the Magic who won 60 games themselves. The Chicago Bulls were on a tear.  That summer rumors began flying about O'Neal leaving for Los Angeles.

The Orlando Sentinel, who does a great job of belittling players, conducted a poll to see if O'Neal was worth the money that the Lakers were offering, $121 Million. The rumors continued, this time detailing that before Orlando even drafted O'Neal there was a deal on the table for the Lakers to trade for him. Then another story arose about him having a baby out of wedlock and the Orlando Media criticized him for that. What ever O'Neal's intentions were back in the days he took the offer and as a Magic fan it really hurt to see the most dominant big man leave the team I cheered for as a 11 year old kid.  It didn’t help my father and soon to be baby brother were Lakers fans. The quote I remember until this day: “Orlando is a dried up pond” got my blood boiling and every Shaq item I had as a kid was in the trash as I became infuriated with him. I take a lot of pride in where I grew up and the team I cheered for and the teams that he helped win NBA Championships became my personal rivals. I couldn’t stand the Lakers or the Miami Heat because he help those teams hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy by also playing with some fantastic wing players in Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade.

They always say Jealousy is Love and Hate at the same time. Watching Shaq's success kills me because I knew he would be one of the greatest big men to play this game, He was literally a matchup nightmare. Honestly, He should have more than one MVP award, which is just an injustice after how much of an dominant force this guy was. So yes, seeing him succeed drove me nuts in all forms imaginable. Because who knows what would have happen if he stayed in Orlando? Or If Penny was to stay healthy?  Remember the rumors of Tim Duncan to Orlando? Can you imagine Shaq calling him and say hey Tim, me and you the Twin Towers part two in the southeast? Grant Hill who if was healthy was one hell of a player with the Detroit Pistons.

Don’t even get me drooling of a Tracy McGrady and Shaq pairing, that’s Penny and Shaq part two. Also Dwight Howard is a free agent and he looks at him and say I want you to take over the reigns for me in Orlando, you don’t think that would have set with Dwight some type of way? These are all hypotheticals and it stopped the day that Shaq signed with Lakers taking a risk on a unknown High School player in Kobe Bryant.  Looking at it now after having won three was a great move for Shaq.

Despite winning 4 championships, O'Neal would go on to throw salt on Dwight when he played for Orlando because it was another big man in town, Orlando was getting buzz again after finally getting out of cubby hole that his departure left, they were also rumors that the Magic would move to Kansas City. Dwight rejuvenated that franchise with a core of Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter and Rafer Alston to name a few. There was a Inside the NBA on TNT broadcast where they showed highlights of a Magic game and Shaq said” That’s the place I built.” I want to say Chuck said no, that’s the Place Dwight Howard built, your place is being demolished a couple of blocks over.” It’s really Ironic that Dwight ended up being traded to the Lakers and hence the Orlando Magic is a farm team for the Lakers, which still irks me.

Recently Shaq stated “Sometimes, I regret leaving the Orlando Magic”, I honestly don’t know how to feel about that. I had friends share the article on my social media feeds which is how I got the news and they know how vocal of my dislike for Shaq. And to my surprise about 80% of the arena cheered for him. But with his recent comments, I am now confused. Was Shaq saying this because he was in the moment or it was the right thing to say? Does Shaq really mean this? He owns a Home in Orlando, He came to a few Magic games under his own power, no PR moves. My Mother who loves Shaq is telling me to let it go with other family and friends. I may be confused for awhile who knows, Because words are words unless I see action into place, so part of me wants me to believe Shaq and a part of me don’t.