The battle between the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets was everything NBA fans wanted it to be last night … for about 15 minutes.
A rambunctious Philly crowd was ready to watch James Harden crush his former team while The Most Hated Man in Philly, Ben Simmons, received an earful on the sideline. Instead, a quieted crowd watched the Nets drop 72 points in the first half and cruise to victory. It was another reminder of just competitive and unpredictable the Eastern Conference continues to be with just under a month to go in the regular season. It was also another reminder that no one should want to play Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving come playoff time.
• Durant and Irving combined for a swift 47 points on 52.9 percent from the field. Durant finished with a game-high +34 while Irving walked off the floor with a second-best +27. They looked like the complete opposite of the East’s 8th-ranked team, and we can say the same about the 3rd-place 76ers. As I watched this all unfold, I couldn’t help but think about how the Chicago Bulls might inadvertently dodge a bullet. No one wants to play a healthy Nets team in the first round right now, and that’s the exact trajectory the No. 1 Miami Heat or No. 2 Milwaukee Bucks appear to be on. Look, I know there is no easy out in this upcoming playoff bracket, but facing two NBA champions right off the bat doesn’t sound like the most ideal matchup for an inexperienced playoff team.
• Of course, the mere idea of seeing Joel Embiid in the first round also makes me have to change my pants, so dropping past the No. 4 or No. 5 seed could still be rather catastrophic. The big man is 11-0 against the Bulls in his career and most recently dropped 43 points on their head. He’s a matchup nightmare for almost every team, but especially this offensive-minded Bulls frontcourt. Even when the Bulls get a full-strength Patrick Williams back on the floor, is it fair to expect him to play the kind of help defense that can help contain Embiid? Probably not.
• While I know the recent track record against Philly isn’t great, there are two categories the Bulls might be able to exploit if a playoff series came to be: Transition opportunities and rebounding. The Bulls were able to keep themselves in the mix for a few quarters of Monday night’s game thanks to their aggressive presence on the glass. They outrebounded Philly 48-38 and won the battle on the offensive boards 14-8. Not many teams are worse than the Bulls when it comes to rebounding the basketball, but Philly is one of those teams. They average the fewest rebounds per game, and they are the only team to have a worse OREB% than Chicago.
• As for getting out in transition, Kevin Durant knew to take advantage of that last night:
KD: “We ran them, they’re not really a good transition team.”
— Alec Sturm (@Alec_Sturm) March 11, 2022
• He’s right. Philly allows the 3rd-most fastbreak points per game, and they also allow the 7th-most points per 100 possessions in transition, per Cleaning the Glass. The Nets outscored them 28-8 in fastbreak situations last night, producing some solid film for the Bulls to dissect if they see Embiid and Co. again. Chicago will obviously need to play better on the defensive end of the floor to take greater advantage of these opportunities, but Cleaning the Glass has Chicago as the NBA’s most efficient transition team. Get Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball back in the lineup to help create more of these opportunities, and the Bulls’ chances against a team like the 76ers look that much better.
• Speaking of the defensive devil, Alex Caruso should be back on the practice court today. Billy Donovan let folks know earlier this week that Caruso was cleared for full contact after fracturing his wrist in January. Patrick Williams was also given the green light to step on the practice court for minimal contact. How soon this will lead to either rejoining the rotation is not clear, but it could become much clearer as we go into this weekend.
• I want to give Javonte Green some brief love for his 3-point shooting. I know 1.6 3PAs is probably close to what I’d average if I had to be thrown into an NBA game each night (you think I’m trying to drive on those dudes? Nah. They’d pass me the ball, I’d immediately chuck it toward the rim, and Donovan would take me out), but it’s a career-high for Green, and he’s converting at a solid 35.1 percent rate! If we look just at his play since February, that clip actually improves to 37.1 percent on 2.2 attempts a night. Considering he gets his fair share of catch-and-shoot opportunities now thanks to the defensive attention drawn by LaVine and DeRozan, it’s encouraging to see him elevate this part of his game.
• There is arguably no greater on-court respect than a good old fashion double-team. And DeRozan has gotten a lot of respect this season. According to the NBA’s CourtOptix, DeRozan receives the 8th-most double teams per game, putting him in the same conversation as the league elites. Here’s the Top-10 …
1. Luka Doncic
2. James Harden
3. Ja Morant
4. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo
6. Fred VanVleet
7. Joel Embiid
8. DeMar DeRozan
9. Trae Young
10. Russell Westbrook
• Does Benny the Bulls want to be on my 3v3 team?
Coming this Fall: #BullsFest!
Introducing a weekend-long Chicago street festival featuring a 3v3 tournament, live music, local food, amazing art, and more.
Register your 3v3 team and sign up for event alerts now at https://t.co/Q0g1R98iqh
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) March 11, 2022
• I love this story.
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) March 10, 2022
• DO IT, YOU COWARDS!
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) March 11, 2022