Tag:NBA Finals
Posted on: May 27, 2011 3:54 pm
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Expert Picks: NBA Finals Mavericks-Heat

As we head into the Finals, here's our picks contest leaderboard. Royce Young has simply caught fire. He's the Dirk Nowitzki (or anti-Kevin-Durant, you might say): 

 
Expert Scores
Expert Right Wrong Bonus Total
Royce Young 10 4 4 24
Ken Berger 11 3 1 23
Jamey Eisenberg 11 3 1 23
Ben Golliver 10 4 1 21
Matt Moore 9 5 3 21
Sergio Gonzalez 9 5 2 20


And here are our picks for the Finals:


 
Posted on: May 27, 2011 11:56 am
 

Butler is unlikely, but not ruled out completely

Posted by Royce Young

After Caron Butler's knee surgery back in January, he said he was going to try and get back for the postseason. I think we all sort of said, "Yeah right" and forgot about it.

Butler ruptured his patellar tendon on New Year's Day against the Bucks. Butler, a Racine, Wis. native, popped his kneecap back into place and actually walked off the floor because he didn't want to be carried off in front of friends and family.

But Butler's been working extremely hard during this past month rehabbing and trying to get himself ready for a return. Plus, he's gotten quite a lot of extra time because the Mavs have extended their postseason run all the way to The Finals. Via ESPN Dallas:

"It's unlikely, but I can't say no for sure," coach Rick Carlisle said.

Jason Terry said that Butler doesn't even have to play. Just having him out there would be a lift.

"I just want to see him in layup lines," Dallas guard Jason Terry said recently. "If he can get up in layup lines, it's going to boost us immensely emotionally. He's been here the whole way, though. This guy has worked so hard to get ready."

It's very unlikely Butler will make an appearance, but maybe he does suit up for a couple games. And like Terry said, that would be a nice bit of inspiration.

But what if Butler got healthy enough to play a little? Obviously he wouldn't return to the starting lineup, but if he were to see minutes, he'd like fill the role Peja Stojakoic has had off the bench. It's always dangerous to start tweaking and messing with rotations when what's got you here has clearly worked, but Butler would probably fit back in nicely.

Again, very unlikely though. Butler is obviously trying to rush things, which isn't a good idea. The Mavs could use him, but they need the Caron Butler that was playing really well back in December. Not one that's not even done rehabbing. But in terms of an emotional boost, the Mavs will take anything they can get.
Posted on: May 27, 2011 3:22 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 6:12 am
 

NBA Finals Storylines: It Ain't 2006



Posted by Matt Moore

You're going to have the year 2006 emblazoned into your brain over the next five to 10 days if you pay attention to NBA coverage at all. It's going to dominate the talk since these two teams, the Heat and the Mavericks, met five years ago for the title. Everything will be examined in the same context and talk of the officials will be prime in Dallas, and talk of Wade's brilliance will be brought up in Miami, along with Udonis Haslem and his defense on Dirk Nowitzki. Let me stop you there.

The coaches are different. The rosters are different. The identities are different. The styles are different. The approaches are different. Everything is different. If you think that series defines Dirk's career or ability to succeed in the clutch, you just crawled out from under a rock. If you think Wade's still able to draw contact like he did in that series you're bonkers. If you think anything compares to the effect LeBron James can have on this series, you're out of your gourd.

This is not 2006.

This is 2011, and here are your NBA Finals storylines. 


Can Dallas' defense step up? 


The Mavericks gave up a 106.1 defensive efficiency in the playoffs this season through the Western Conference finals. That's seventh-best of all the teams in the league. Sure, they had more games to try and suffer through. But the reality is that the Mavericks for long stretches of the Western Conference Playoffs couldn't get stops. They found ways down the stretch to cut off the Thunder but it won't be nearly as easy against the Heat. We know the Heat's defense is legit. We know Miami's offense is legit. We know the Mavericks' offense is legit. But with so many size issues for the Mavericks, we're going to have questions about how they guard the Heat. Once again the absence of Caron Butler is extremely damaging for Dallas. The Mavericks will wind up with one of the following guarding Dwyane Wade: Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakovic, Jose Barea, or Corey Brewer. That does not bode well. Even more concerning is Shawn Marion, as well as he played against Kevin Durant, guarding LeBron James.  No one can guard those players. But the Mavericks are especially ill-equipped to stop them. If the Mavericks' were ever going to whip out a zone, now might be the time. 


Will point guard play finally hurt the Heat?

Jrue Holiday did it a bit, but it didn't matter. Rajon Rondo was ... er ... not the same. Derrick Rose was shut down due to the offensive weapons surrounding him, or lack thereof, allowing James and Wade to freelance on him with an additional help defender on the double. But the Heat are facing a different beast in Jason Kidd. Kidd's not young, athletic (anymore, comparatively, though he can still get up and down the floor and has a decent amount of muscle). He's not going to try and torch the Heat on drives. He's just going to make the right play. Kidd will try and outsmart the Heat's athleticism and ability with savvy. He'll make passes they don't anticipate and aren't used to, slip between defenders only to beat their reactions defensively and make the right pass. Throw in Kidd's surprising recent ability to hit open 3-pointers and the Heat might be surprised at the old veteran working his Magic


Mavericks on the verge of validation


Dirk Nowitkzi is one of the best players of the past 10 years and he has no rings. Jason Kidd is a surefire Hall of Famer and doesn't have a ring. Jason Terrry has been a fourth-quarter maestro for the same franchise for the same length of time as Nowitzki, no ring. Mark Cuban has sunk more than $800 million into trying to earn a championship, no ring. Rick Carlisle led successful teams in Indiana and Detroit, no ring. This series is their best shot and in all likelihood, their last chance. This is everything for the Mavericks. The Heat have years to make another run. For the Mavericks, this is their absolute best chance at a title, to catch the Heat confident and still trying to figure themselves out. This isn't just an exciting shot at a title, it's about salvaging legacies and cementing greatness. 


The promise of 'The Decision'

They're there. They have to win four games and they will have backed it all up. All the talk, all the pomp, all the circumstance, all the pyro. The Heat will have lived up to their hype. The only way to shut up critics is to win it all. Miami's not just within sight of it, they're on the doorstep. They just beat the defending Eastern Conference champs and the top seed in the East featuring the best defensive team in the league. Yes, everyone will still regard James as arrogant, and question the value of teaming up with other elite teammates. But the narrative will start to shift if they win the title. James becomes a winner, Wade a two-time champ, and Erik Spoelstra a championship coach. Lose, and everyone's harshest criticism rings true.  Everything changes in four more games, either way. 

Posted on: May 27, 2011 1:47 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 2:11 am
 

NBA Finals: Heat, Mavs make a battle of closers

Finals will feature battle of great closers in Heat, Mavericks.

Posted by Matt Moore

You want a story for  the Finals? How's this. 

"No lead is safe."

The 2011 NBA Finals will feature two teams riding some of the strongest fourth quarter and final minutes play in recent history, maybe ever. Both teams absolutely crushed their opponents in the final minutes of the Conference Finals. You can talk about the inexperience they faced to get to the Finals, but the reality is that both teams crushed their opponents with long runs to close out big deficits and crush their opponent... multiple times.

The Finals set up an epic battle of notable clutch players. Dirk Nowitzki is on a roll of epic proportions at the moment, absolutely unstoppable with a seven foot frame and the single best jumper in the NBA. Jason Terry has been known to absolutely take over fourth quarters with huge shots. Jason Kidd won't wow you with 3-pointers (well, except you, Thunder, sorry), but he will always, always, always make the right decision and as Derrick Rose showed in the East. That's big. And Shawn Marion's clutch play has been quietly the defensive counterpart to Dirk Nowitzki. For the Heat? James, all day. LeBron has been another creature all-together in the fouth quarter of these playoffs. He hasn't just closed out, he's decided games are over and then made it so. Dwyane Wade had terrible quarters 1-3 in Games 4 and 5, and yet closed out the fourth and overtimes to make the difference. Even Chris Bosh has been clutch. 

There's not a player on either team you're concerned about in the key moments right now. Not one that will get the ball anyway. Defensively, Miami's got the edge, but the Thunder didn't fall apart on their own. These are veteran teams with amazing players, primed to finish strong.

These Finals may not be close. But if the game is within five after three quarters, heck, if it's within 20 after three quarters, neither team can feel safe. Each team will put the pedal down. For the Mavericks, it will be Dirk Nowitzki trying to overcome a much better set of defenders and the Mavericks using the inevitable doubles to find the open corner shooter. For the Heat? Just standing back and watching James and Wade do their thing. Can the Heat really stop Nowitkzi? Hard to see anyone playing better defense than Nick Collison did and Dirk made him look silly. Can anyone stop LeBron James right now?

No, really, can anyone, anywhere, stop LeBron James right now?

This isn't just the two best teams of the playoffs meeting to decide the title, it's the two teams who have shown consistently they want the game more, know how to win the game more, and have the will to close the game more.

And we get to see them settle which one of them wants a ring more.  
Posted on: May 27, 2011 12:09 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 5:58 am
 

Mavericks-Heat 2011 NBA Finals Preview

An early preview of the NBA Finals matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat. Posted by Ben Golliver.

lebron-mavs

I. Intro: Western Conference Champions: No. 3 seed Dallas Mavericks (57-25) vs. Eastern Conference Champions: No. 2 seed Miami Heat (58-24)

II. How They Got Here: A look at the playoff track records

Dallas: 12-3 in the 2011 NBA playoffs (4-2 against the Portland Trail Blazers, 4-0 against the Los Angeles Lakers, 4-1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder). Dallas is 7-1 at home and 5-2 on the road in the playoffs.

Miami: 12-3 in the 2011 NBA playoffs (4-1 against the Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1 against the Boston Celtics, 4-1 against the Chicago Bulls). Miami is 8-0 at home and 4-3 on the road in the playoffs.

In the regular season, Dallas had the No. 8 offense and the No. 7 defense from an efficiency perspective. Miami had the No. 3 offense and the No. 5 defense. In the postseason, Dallas has the No. 1 offense and the No. 9 defense. Miami has the No. 4 offense and the No. 2 defense.

Both teams have played at a relatively slow pace in the postseason: Dallas is ranked No. 10 and Miami is ranked No. 13 out of 16 playoff teams.

III. What Happened: A look at the season series

The Mavericks and Heat matched up just twice in the regular season, with Dallas winning both times. The teams haven’t faced each other in almost five months, as the two games took place all the way back on Nov. 27 and Dec. 20. Dallas won 106-95 at home on Nov. 27 and they won 98-96 on the road on Dec. 20.

Of course, much has changed for both teams, but the regular season results are interesting for one main reason: The Heat went 22-2 from Nov. 26, 2010 until Jan. 9, 2011 ... the best stretch of their season by leaps and bounds. Both losses during that time period came at the hands of the Mavericks.

Keep in mind, Dallas had the services of small forward Caron Butler and Miami was without power forward Udonis Haslem. In all likelihood, that situation will be reversed for the Finals: Butler is expected to be out as he continues to rehab from knee surgery while Haslem has returned from foot surgery to provide a major spark for the Heat against the Bulls.

IV. Secret of the Series: Late-Game Execution

Nobody has finished games like Dallas and Miami in this playoffs. Not even close.

The main weapons have been Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James, but both teams have benefited from substantial defensive contributions from the likes of Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Throw in dagger shots from Jason Kidd and Wade, as well as meaningful role player contributions from Peja Stojakovic, J.J. Barea, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, and you start to understand why these two teams have stood up so well under pressure. They’ve got tons and tons of options.

Nowitzki has left longtime NBA observers speechless with his shot-making and play-making over the last month but James has matched him shot for shot, comeback for comeback. What might prove to be the difference is James’ lockdown defense late in games. Never before has he appeared to enjoy ball-hawking as much as he did against the Bulls. Derrick Rose, one of the league’s best shot creators, often looked absolutely hopeless in crunch time with James draped all over him. What’s more, he has seemed immune to pressure ever since a critical late-game turnover against the Celtics. James closed out Boston with a monster run, and he combined with Wade to do the same to the Bulls on Thursday night. If the Mavericks can find an answer for James in the game’s final minutes four times during the Finals, they will have more than earned their rings.

V. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: The Miami Heat have dealt well with Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose so far in the playoffs, despite a middling point guard rotation featuring Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers. The defensive versatility of James and Wade helps a lot to cover up for those two. Jason Kidd, at 38 years old, has been one of many unsung heroes for the Mavericks, surviving Andre Miller, Derek Fisher and Russell Westbrook. Both sides will be thankful here. Miami will be glad they don’t need to worry about a paint-crashing young All-Star again while Dallas will take comfort in the same. Rather than worry about the Roses and Westbrooks of the world, Kidd can do what he does best: steady the ship, distribute the rock to the open man and force opportunistic turnovers. Kidd is averaging 9.9 points, 7.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals in the playoffs. Phenomenal numbers considering his age and the competition. Advantage: Mavericks. 

SG: Dwyane Wade or DeShawn Stevenson? Let’s not overthink this one. While Stevenson has been a nominal starter with reserve guard Jason Terry, an impact player on both ends, playing the bulk of the minutes, the Mavericks' combination falls far, far short of what Wade brings to the table. While the All-Star took a bit of a backseat in the scoring department in the Eastern Conference finals after torching the Boston Celtics, he’s a match-up nightmare for the Mavericks. Really, he’s what Kobe Bryant was supposed to be in the second round, if Bryant hadn’t decided to shoot only contested jumpers and never get to the rim or the free throw line. Wade’s been a menace on defense as well. He can cover tons of ground, which should help limit Dallas’ hot outside shooting. Huge advantage: Heat. 

SF: Like Kidd, Shawn Marion has been a major, chronically overlooked factor during Dallas’s playoff run. Marion put the stamp on the Western Conference finals, coming up with two huge late steals and a brilliant and-one dunk to push the Mavericks past the Thunder in Game 5. But even in his best days, which are behind him, Marion was no LeBron James, and, over the last month, we’ve realized just how impactful James can be. From being able to interchangeably cover three or four positions, to closing out games, to sacrificing his body for crucial hustle plays, James has been everywhere. His postseason averages: 25.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.4 points, 1.4 blocks and 1.6 steals (entering Thursday) are just ridiculous. Perhaps, best of all, despite playing almost 44 minutes a night and handling the ball a ton, he’s committing less than three turnovers a game. Marion will have his hands full. Really, really, really full. Huge Advantage: Heat. 

PF: Nowitzki has earned gushing praise. He has taken his scoring versatility, efficiency and creativity to new heights. The leaners have been great, a dagger three has been mixed in here and there, and his passing to keep teams honest has been exceptional. His effort level on the boards and on defense have both been superb. His postseason numbers -- 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists – reflect his dominance. In Heat forward Chris Bosh, though, he’s matched up with an athletic, talented player who is somewhat similar to Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge started the first round series with good success before the Mavericks adjusted and forced Portland’s perimeter players to beat them, which they couldn’t. Against the Heat, the Mavericks won’t have that luxury, so they’ll have to defend Bosh with single coverage a lot more often. That, plus the confidence and scoring touch Bosh showed against Chicago, will help Miami keep this match-up closer than you might expect. Still, it’s Dirk’s world and we’re all just living in it. Advantage: Mavericks.

C: Joel Anthony has been the man in the middle fill-in that Miami so desperately needed. Better than a stiff, his activity level helps keep Miami from getting overrun on the glass and his help defense dissuades forays into the paint. That’s about it for Anthony, which is OK from Miami’s standpoint given the offensive talent they always have on the court. Tyson Chandler, though, has proven to be an effective two-way player for the Mavericks. Not only has he been a pest getting into the heads of his opponents, he’s been huge on the glass, averaging 9.3 rebounds per game in the postseason. Foul trouble is always a lingering issue with Chandler, but his length and energy level, plus his ability to finish lob plays to prevent teams from overloading on Nowitzki, are all big plusses that tilt this match-up in his favor.  Advantage: Mavericks.

Bench: The Heat haves scaled things back to an eight-man rotation, using only Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Chalmers. Although Miller and Haslem haven’t really peaked in this playoffs, they’ve both made important contributions. Not much was expected after their respective injuries so it feels like an added bonus. If one of those three guys doesn’t get hot, Miami’s bench is really just buying time for its starters. Dallas, on the other hand, has enjoyed a big-time positive bench scoring differential throughout the playoffs. In addition to Terry, J.J. Barea has been a tempo-changing, gameplan-altering, pesky presence, Peja Stojakovic has provided the knockdown shooting and Brendan Haywood can give some fouls and pull down the occasional rebound. (He can also be counted on to get posterized.) The huge issue for Dallas’ bench will be its perimeter defense. Will the subs be able to get their full runs through the rotation? How long can they stay on the floor if James and Wade continue to play heavy, heavy minutes? Hard to say. But Dallas’ bench has been more consistent, more prolific and it does enjoy the depth advantage. Slight advantage: Mavericks.

Coach: As mentioned above, both teams enter the series having played very, very well at the end of games. Both teams have also survived against a variety of opponents, overcoming significant mental hurdles along the way. For the Heat, it was finally pushing past the Celtics. For the Mavericks, it was surviving a miracle comeback against the Blazers. Both teams have closed out series on the road. Both teams have played the “proving the doubters wrong” card during the course of the season and both have stayed true to their self-perceived identity, resisting criticism and believing in their fundamentals. Simply put: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle both deserve their share of the credit for those accomplishments. Advantage: Push.

VI. Conclusion

As dominant as the Mavericks have been in this postseason, they haven’t played a team that is as talented, focused and steady as the Heat. In the Blazers, Dallas was able to exploit a weak shooting team. Against the Lakers, Dallas made a disorganized and sloppy team pay. With the Thunder, Dallas forced Oklahoma City's younger players to crack under pressure.

Miami is well-rounded enough so that it resists straightforward tendency analysis. It’s fully motivated and focused as evidenced by its dismantling of the Celtics and Bulls in back-to-back series. And it’s proven to be very resilient in big moments, coming back to beat both Boston and Chicago in dramatic fashion.

While the Mavericks own positional advantage at three starting spots, and for the bench as a whole, they have no answer for James and Wade. This year, it’s starting to feel like no one in the NBA has an answer for that duo. Prediction: Heat in 6.


Posted on: September 22, 2010 5:00 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2010 7:16 pm
 

Pop Quiz: Are the Celtics too old?

Posted by Matt Moore

Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell ... The NBA season is right around the corner, and NBA training camp starts in just a few short weeks. To get you ready for the NBA season, we've put together 25 pop quizzes. Pencils ready? We continue our Pop Quizzes with this question...

Are the Celtics too old to win the title?


Too old for what? I suppose that's the real question here. Too old to win the East? Probably not. Too old to get homecourt advantage? Surely not. Too old to win the title?

That's a tough one. 

Let me take you back to a year ago. The Celtics began the season trying to regain their pride after a loss to the then-surprising Magic in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And to be honest? They didn't look very convincing, even on their winning streak as they cruised to the division title. In key games, Garnett looked slow. They lost to a Kobe buzzer-beater. Even when they later got revenge for that game, it seemed to set a tone. And that was before the second half, where they looked terrible. Every Boston fan on the planet will tell you that it was just a lack of resolve, a sense of boredom, and that those games simply didn't matter to them, so their effort wasn't there. That's probably partially true. It's also partially true that even bored the Celtics should have beaten the Nets and beaten them easily in every game they played. There were problems for Boston. Tons of them. Most notably, they were swept by the Hawks, and each time it was a late run by the Hawks featuring the transition game that did them in. The Celtics simply couldn't run with them. Everyone put a plug in them, except their fans, a handful of media, and Nate Jones. 

And then the playoffs came, and all of that thought process went out the window.

The San Antonio Spurs throughout the years had drifted and coasted to second half finishes, and yet always seemed to find themselves there at the end for years. But there was no precedent for the rope-a-dope the Celtics seemingly pulled last year. Even the first few games against Miami in the first round seemed close. But then Kevin Garnett got into a fight which lead to a suspension, and from there on out, the Celtics destroyed everyone when they needed to when they came across them, all the way up until the 4th quarter of Game 7 against LA. The pitbulls had regained control of the pack, and everyone that said Boston only lost to the Magic due to Garnett's injury in 2009 was vindicated. 

That was last year. The Celtics are now a year older. Ray Allen is 35, Garnett 34, Pierce 33. They added two centers who long ago left the comfort of 30. Rajon Rondo is still young and chipper, alongside Glen Davis and Nate Robinson. But they put on a lot of miles the last two years, which will add to the fatigue factor. 

But then, Shaquille O'Neal says that old teams win titles. Which is pretty on par. Experience matters in this league, and the Celtics have a world of it. 

How old are the Celtics in comparison to other title teams? Since 2004-2005, championship team starters averaged to be 27.4 years old. The oldest were naturally the Spurs in 2007. Their starting five in the Finals that year began the season at an average age of 30.6 years old. The Celtics enter this season at 30.2 years old if we project Kendrick Perkins as the starter for a theoretical Finals and 32.8 if we go with Shaquille O'Neal, the probably opening night starter. The Celtics, in essence, are trying to be the second oldest team since 2004 to win the title. It's relatively easy to argue that the competition is greater now than it was in 2007, with the Pau-Gasol-era Lakers, the Heat, and the Magic in play, but those are the numbers. 

So what's the answer? In case you haven't been able to tell, this is simply not a quiz with a correct answer. If you are to make the case that the Celtics have finally reached the threshold where wisdom becomes physical limitation, you're probably on par. We saw signs of it last year, the Celtics just showed a remarkable amount of grit in powering through it and committing to the team concept (again). If you were to make the case that the Celtics are nowhere near done, not after last year's performance, who could argue with you?

And that's where we hit the Heat. 

Of course.

The Heat are going to be the antithesis for the Celtics this season, and in a lot of ways they are polar opposites. The Celtics rely on players that are very clearly defined in their roles (Rondo is the point guard, distributer, floor general. Garnett the defensive motivational speaker. Pierce is the go-to scorer. Allen is the perimeter marksman, etc.). The Heat have a nebulous lineup that may end up featuring a super freak small forward at point guard and their starting center is an inexperienced Canadian who is 6'9'' (Perkins is 6'10''). The Celtics are committed to a defensive philosophy of sacrifice and communication. The Heat are betting heavily on overwhelming opponents with skill and ability. The Celtics are primarily an old team. The Heat are primarily a mid-20's team. The Celtics have experience. The Heat are inexperie....wait. No they're not. Dwyane Wade's won a title and James has been in the Finals. But that's the perception. 

It's an interesting corollary that our society will define age with physically limited, but also often associate it with toughness. If you make it that long, you must have thick skin. And that's the area where most people doubt the Heat and believe in the Celtics. The Celtics are betting that you'll have an easier time drawing breath at your young age, but that they'll be the last one standing when the bell rings. 

I closed the door on the Magic's window and needless to say, team bloggers are not buying. I was ready to shut the door on the Celtics last year, and they slammed it back in my face, walked in, made themselves a sandwich and tracked mud on my carpet. I'm not willing to bury the Celtics until the heart's stopped beating. Age can be cruel, but for the Celtics, it's a beast they can live with. They remain contenders to the ring until that last breath gives out. 
Posted on: September 2, 2010 10:46 am
Edited on: September 2, 2010 10:48 am
 

Boozer thinks Bulls are championship caliber

Bulls new forward thinks they can compete for a championship, this season.
Posted by Matt Moore


The NBA is extremely elitist in terms of contenders for its championship. Versus the NFL, where 20 fanbases or so are going into next Thursday night's opener thinking if everything goes right for them, their team can bring back the Lombardi, and fifteen of those are actually being reasonable, in the NBA that list is about four teams.

The Lakers, obviously.

The Celtics, naturally.

The Heat, you'd have to say.

And if you're feeling generous, the Magic. They did make the Finals two years ago after all.

But is there a fifth team? Is there another team that could challenge the mountain, overcome it, and achieve what Ninja Warrior describes as "total victory?" What about the Bulls?

Carlos Boozer is here to tell you they are right in the mix for the NBA championship. When asked about the Bulls' goals for the upcoming season, Boozer told ESPN Chicago:


"A championship," he told ESPNChicago.com on Wednesday night after a Nike House of Hoops event. "I think a realistic goal for us is a championship. I think anything shorter than that we're setting ourselves up to be shorter than what we can reach. I think [we have] potential to be a championship-level team."

Well, then, Carlos. Don't hold yourself back. Really put yourself out there. There's no question that the Bulls have improved significantly from the team that was one-and-done'd by the Cavs and Celtics the past two seasons. But to be a championship contender in the East among all the powerhouses that now exist? Most striking is that essentially Boozer's attributing the team that the Bulls had last year, plus himself, along with Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer, to be the difference in the 8th seed and a championship.

If Boozer's going to have that kind of impact, it's probably important to compare this team to the Utah Jazz team that Boozer's been playing for when uninjured for the past few seasons. The Jazz have been a great team, well coached, disciplined, versatile, and effective. They even made the Western Conference Finals in 2007. Of course, that was primarily on account of them landing Golden State in the second round following one of the most shocking upsets in NBA history. How does this Bulls team stack up with the Utah team that's been plugging away (and getting swept out to the sea by LA) the last few years?

Derrick Rose is a phenomenal talent on the rise, one of the best point guards already. In Team USA play, he's shown off an improved jumper to go along with his superb quickness and touch. But is he better than Deron Williams? Hard to argue at this point. Rose's ceiling is certainly equal with, or possibly superior to Williams, but Williams is considered by many to be the best point guard in the NBA (with apologies to co-owner of that title, Chris Paul). Williams' defense is phenomenal, using his size and reach to harass opponents, and his all-around offensive game is nearly unstoppable when he's healthy.

Joakim Noah is probably the biggest upgrade for the Bulls over Boozer's Jazz. Versus Mehmet Okur, who is primarily a perimeter shooter, Noah is a workhorse down low, plowing whatever needs plowing on both sides of the ball. He's emerged as a top center in the league, though he's far from the top of the class just yet. Luol Deng may be an improvement over Andre Kirileko, depending on what you're looking for, but Deng's inconsistency is just as maddening as Kirilenko's injury problems. And new additions Brewer and Korver were members of that same Jazz team. Hard to argue they're significant upgrades now.

Which brings us to Boozer. The resume is certainly there on paper. 19.5 ppg, 11.2 rbg, 56% from the floor, PER of 21.3, which is up there with Brandon Roy and Steve Nash. His playoff stats are even higher. So why is it then that he's never been considered among the elite in the NBA? There are those that say that his stats can often be empty, and that he is unable to make the same impact on the game as his peers in that regard. But the numbers don't lie. However, there is something about Boozer that seems to indicate there's a piece missing. That's partially why he was brought into Chicago to be the secondary option behind Rose. It's simply hard to see how this cast of characters will dramatically alter things in a top-heavy East just because of his acquisition.

Of course, this is all based around individual assessments. For a more accurate picture, we need to look at the system as a whole. And that leads us to a more promising look. Boozer provides Rose with a capable pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop partner, as well as a low-post scorer he can turn to. While Boozer's interior defense is nothing to write home about (he allowed a 46% FG% in the post last season), Noah can help with that due to his size. His passing ability should help the offense funnel the ball to its new shooter, Kyle Korver, and his leadership should not be discounted. The Bulls as a team look incredibly strong.

But are they a championship team? With the Celtics, Magic, and Heat all in their conference, meaning they'll have to get through at least two of them most likely in the playoffs, the Bulls have to measure themselves against those teams. And while it's certainly reasonable to be excited about this season, the firepower of those other teams has to lead you to believe Boozer may want to scale it back a bit. Only way up is through, though, I suppose.


 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com