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I was worried about the Bulls but then I watched the Thunder blow out the Heat on Sunday evening and I felt better.
The Bulls have struggled of late (they are still winning of course but the competition has been weak) and in particular, the play of Luol Deng is a problem. He is trying to fight through a torn ligament in his left wrist but it is clearly having a negative impact on his game. And it is an injury that will almost certainly plague him until he gets it surgically repaired. The problem there is if he goes for surgery, he is out for the year.
On the bright side, Deng executed a glorious, last-millisecond tip-in in overtime to win Saturday's game 102-101 against the Raptors. But on shots longer than lay-ups, he is struggling mightily. He missed all six of his three-point attempts on Saturday and barely drew iron on four of them.
It's tough to say what the answer is - although certainly some extra rest (i.e. some missed games) before the playoffs will be required. You have to wonder what sort of anti-inflammatory or just simply anti-pain medicine he might be on at this point and whether he will increase the dosage when the post-season rolls around. The tricky part there, of course, is the chance that he tweaks the wrist without realizing it because of the meds and ends up hurt worse.
The rest of the Bulls game was a slog. Derrick Rose was still sidelined by a pulled muscle in his groin and none of the Bulls shot well from the perimeter. Joakim Noah failed to control himself after he was the wronged party on a bad foul call, threw the ball in the general direction of the offending ref and was tossed from the game. Not good.
I took in the game from my customary seat (for three or four games a year) a handful of rows behind the baseline and the visitor's bench. You can actually see me when the ball is at that end of the floor. I'm just to the left of the shot clock. Yes, I know I am very special and not just because of my education.
There wasn't anything particularly noteworthy as far as the game action was concerned. In each of the quarters, the Bulls played well early and took small leads but then faltered toward the end and trailed by a half-dozen or so at all the 12-minute breaks. They were incredibly fortunate at the end of regulation. With the score tied (down at the far end of the floor as I looked at it), the Bulls could not clear a defensive rebound and the Raptors could not hit a shot (they had about four cracks at it in their final possession alone). The buzzer finally sounded and overtime was required.
Backing it up a bit, I must say halftime was a highlight. There is a little sports bar across the concourse from where the aisle to our seats begins and we went over there to watch the last minute of the Syracuse-Ohio State game during the break. One screen also showed the halftime show in progress and I must say I wasn't terribly sad to be missing a couple Cirque du Soleil performers who were doing a routine that started with one guy on his back holding another guy up in the air with his feet. The guy in the air was somersaulting and that meant the guy on the ground was holding him up with his feet on his back sometimes and in his crotch other times. No thank you.
So we had a chance to see Ohio State not quite blow it and in the process save a little bit of face for the Big Ten. When the Sweet 16 began Thursday evening with Wisconsin and Michigan State bowing out against teams they could have defeated, it appeared the local conference was headed toward ignominy. But the Buckeyes stepped up and ensured the weekend would not be a total loss.
I must also say that although I am not a college basketball fan, I still feel I can say I'm having a hard time believing anyone who didn't pick the Final Four is really excited about this NCAA Tournament.
There were no big upsets this past weekend - Cinderella officially bowed out when Ohio couldn't finish off North Carolina in overtime Friday evening - and I saw more late-game excitement at the Bulls game than has been featured in any game at this year's Dance.
Anyway, the Raptors had to be cursing the fates after Saturday's finish. After shooting well from the free throw line all night they choked at the end. Former Bull James Johnson and guard Gary Forbes combined to miss three of four free throws in the last minute of overtime.
Still, it appeared the Raptors would win when they played perfect defense on the Bulls' last possession, forcing C.J. Watson to take a nearly impossible shot against a much taller defender. Sure enough the shot was either tipped or it came up came up way short on its own. Then Deng stepped in and worked his magic.
Too bad there hasn't been any similar magic at this year's Big Dance. And unless someone figures out how to beat a mercenary Kentucky team that has far more talent than its Final Four foes, it will officially be a magic-free tournament.
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