The push will come stronger and faster. You can’t work your way into it. No waiting for tomorrow. You have until April 28 – that’s less than two months – to work your way into the postseason. If you’re in the East, there’s hope. Outside of three or four teams, everyone else is one big injury away from a five-game slide and a shot at extinction. Outside of Miami and Chicago, get too big-headed and you’ll be slain. Lose your confidence and you’ll end up next to Washington and Charlotte.
Questions abound for everyone, and by this point, patterns are developing. We hit you with the Northwest yesterday, as well as the Atlantic Division. Now, here are five burning questions for the Eastern Conference’s Central Division.
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Rip Hamilton was supposed to be the answer. The question? How will the Bulls score enough in the fourth quarter to beat Miami if Derrick Rose has to do everything. That’s interesting… because Hamilton is scoring only 12.5 points a night with an ugly PER of 12.33 – more importantly, he’s also missed 24 games – and still, Chicago is third in the NBA in offensive efficiency (105). The two teams ahead of them? Their two biggest threats on the road to a ring: Miami and Oklahoma City.
The same thing that makes the Bulls so consistent in the regular season – spread-out scoring – will hurt them against Miami. Games so slow down. Possessions mean more. Defenses, and no one does this better than Miami (ask Jeremy Lin), take away your first and sometimes second options. In Chicago’s four-straight losses in the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami last season, Rose shot a combined 32-for-98. That ain’t working.
They need a second scoring option to REALLY step up. Luol Deng is hitting for 15.6 a night, but only shooting 41 percent. Carlos Boozer is shooting over 53 percent, but playing under 30 minutes and barely getting 13 shots a night. And then there’s Hamilton, who crumbles apart every few weeks.
Indiana has been one of the more well-balanced teams in the league this season, and because of it, only diehards have recognized they’re sitting at 21-12 and have a great chance to win a playoff series. They’re young, athletic and particularly long. Between 7-2 Roy Hibbert, 6-whatever-he-is-now Paul George, David West and his elbows, and Danny Granger, they cut off more space than the mama spider from Arachnophobia.
But they’re like the early-’90s British band Judas Priest post-Rob Halford: no lead man to make sure the cylinders are firing. Darren Collison is okay if you want a guy that can beat up on the lottery little guys. But outside of zombie Jameer, who will he do that to in the playoffs? He’s already been sent to the guillotine by Derrick Rose in last season’s playoffs. Even in Miami, he’s probably a better player than Mario Chalmers but LeBron and Wade function so much like lead guards that it really doesn’t even matter.
Being No. 28 in total assists just won’t work when the two best teams in your conference are known for strangling and suffocating.
Despite saying he would play with a elephant-sized chip on his shoulder after being shunned by the NBA midseason classic, Brandon Jennings has done what fantasy owners everywhere were afraid of: He’s resorted to the mean. In his last five games, he’s scoring 15.8 points and shooting barely 37 percent, and going back further, Jennings hasn’t had a night where he shot above 50 percent since the final game in January. In fact, most of them haven’t even been close.
Jennings is like J. Cole. You keep expecting – wanting – more from him, keep building him up when in reality, maybe we just need to accept what he is: a skilled player who isn’t quite physical enough to finish around the rim, which results in a lot of contested jumpers (Or in J. Cole’s case, a skilled rapper that just makes boring music.). Cole has his lane. Perhaps so does Jennings. Of course, if either of these two proves me wrong, be sure to point it out.
But that lane is killing the Bucks. They’re shooting just 42 percent from the floor on the year – a product of relying on Jennings, Drew Gooden and a bunch of swingmen who could be better off as practice chairs – with Andrew Bogut out. Combine that with their work on the boards – No. 26 in the NBA in rebounding rate (48.2) – and you have a recipe for a lot of sleeping children in the stands.
Bogut’s status is a mystery, and if the Bucks have any shot at getting back into the playoffs, Jennings can’t be shooting like Dirty Dee‘s thugs.