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D.J. Augustin Falls Short Of Rescuing A Bulls' Offense Running On Fumes

CHICAGO – For the first time in his NBA career, D.J. Augustin had received order to revive a season and a playoff series. No rhythm found, the postseason’s heightened defense elevating stress on the Chicago Bulls, and Tom Thibodeau yelled for Augustin’s name and placed him with the daunting task of leading a bench unit to resurrect them out of an embarrassing offensive display.

With three-pointers and floaters, mid-range jumpers and drive-and-kicks, Augustin fulfilled his meaning to the Bulls on Wednesday night and answered his own words about Game 2 against the Washington Wizards as a “must win.” He orchestrated a comeback and helped secured a six-point lead with less than three minutes to play, totaling a postseason career-high of 25 points and seven assists.

Suddenly, Washington was out to stop him. In a huddle in the fourth quarter, Randy Wittman had settled with Trevor Ariza his new defensive assignment: Augustin. Over eight inches taller, Ariza shadowed Augustin everywhere on the court, contested every shot and misplaced his comfort.

John Wall had thrown the basketball crosscourt at the buzzer to punctuate the Wizards’ 2-0 series lead in this first round, and Augustin was walking to the tunnel before jogging to corral the ball. His teammates were off the court now, but Augustin hoisted one more baseline jumper – cascading short on the rim, as if Ariza still hounded.

“[Ariza] is 6-8 and so lengthy, it’s hard to get free,” Augustin said at his locker. “We have to be ready and adjust for next game.”

Augustin missed his last six attempts from the field, a lone shot creator gone cold and sealed with the game in the balance. He put forth a brilliant performance for so long Wednesday, Thibodeau’s season-saver demanding the most out of his own offense. And like so many within these Bulls, Augustin noticed an offense lacking desired options when the game dictates response, a rotation of players exhausting play sets to continue creating quality shots on broken possessions.

With Derrick Rose on the sideline in a suit and a potential pursuit of Carmelo Anthony months away, this has become the Bulls’ reality. Thibodeau will keep searching for solutions to bring the series back to Chicago, for wrinkles in his scheme to discombobulate the Wizards.

As Taj Gibson said, “D.J., the way he ends games, he always takes the big shots for us,” and Augustin knew the critical, judicious looks came his way in regulation. He’s thrived with Thibodeau’s structure and opportunity, and this ideal fit will be a significant factor in his unrestricted free agency.

For now, Chicago observed the hunger in Bradley Beal and Wall and their Wizards, every facet coming together for a blend of young talents and veterans. The backcourt running mates had mightily struggled in Game 1, only to prove the coaching staff’s belief in the aberration.

Over and over, people presented the Bulls with chances to push the Game 2 loss onto the charge of other reasons. Late officiating calls. Tiring bodies.

When asked about minute distribution as an impact on the shooting in overtime, Augustin sighed. “It could be, but we’re not going to use it as an excuse.”

When baited to blame the referees for late-game whistles, Joakim Noah shook his head. “I’m not stupid. Come on.”

Before the Bulls showered, dressed and went into the night, Dikembe Mutombo stepped into the locker room and spoke to them about their responsibilities as professionals. Most of all, Mutumbo laughed with them, calmed the tenor of the room and shared his handling of overcoming a 2-0 deficit in a series – a comeback on Seattle in a best of five in 1994.

Mutombo watched a 6-feet guard yank his team from the remains of a disconcerting early deficit on their home court, a performance toward which even Wizards players marveled later. D.J. Augustin had kept shooting and hitting, slashing and cutting, and soon it had come to a weary halt for the Bulls. They all understand these playoffs fall upon their production, and the ranks of reliability are closing fast now.

Nene Shows Wizards Impact Of His Skill, Health In Franchise's First Playoff Win Since 2008

CHICAGO – Inexperience promises to unravel and display flaws, these Washington Wizards listened to people tell them. All this talent up and down the roster, players with championship game moxie, and they still heard some couldn’t get over how their backcourt’s so young, how the veterans relied upon had broken down.

They listened to people pester on about how this postseason serves as the learning template for John Wall and Bradley Beal, and nothing more. On his walk out of the interview room on Sunday night, out of a convincing 24 points on an array of jump shots and post moves in the Wizards’ 102-93 Game 1 win over the Bulls, Nene let out a laugh, smiling about the perception of him and Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and Al Harrington, succumbing to this first-round series as an educational tool for Wall, Beal and Washington’s youth.

Nene had lost sleep Saturday night, tossing and turning about the challenges that the Bulls presented. So you mean to tell him Chicago is heavy favorites in the series, and Nene shakes his head and asserts: I kill hours overnight worrying about my job, and we all must inherit the same urgency.

Seven made jump shots, four finishes in the paint, and Nene absolutely shredded the Bulls and outmuscled and outmatched Joakim Noah. For all of Wall’s talent, Beal’s purity on the jump shot and the balanced cast around them, no one commands the need to be utilized – no one requires the defensive crowd – quite like Nene.

When he’s double-teamed, the passes swing to perimeter shooters. When the help fails to arrive, Nene goes to work.

“We never had a confident vet like Nene,” Wall told RealGM.

“Nene can come up with games like this when he’s rolling,” Gortat said. “Very talented, so dominant, so big – not many people in this league can match his strength and his skill.”

Production born out of his skill and strength never has been Nene’s issue, and his offensive grace and defensive hands – areas Tom Thibodeau marveled about – gave him All-Star potential with the Denver Nuggets. His ability to withstand a full season and stay effective into April became problematic, and this year some of his coaches quietly wondered about his capacity to contribute upon a return, wondered whether relying on his comeback was simply a wish.

Except Nene never endured a setback in his seven-week recovery from the knee injury, and teammates knew his desperate disposition would flow within him in those last four regular season games played. “He gives us our edge,” one Wizards staffer said. Wall and Beal dominate touches in Randy Wittman’s offense, and rightfully so, but they continued affirming Nene in huddles to stay aggressive and understood the sharpness in his mid-range jumper and post-up game.

The Wizards held their two most successful practices of the season leading up to Game 1, players said, pushing one another to maintain stamina. They had remembered giving away late leads throughout the season and punctuating losses with indecisive shot selection and passing.

Sunday had showed Washington grasping control of themselves and the early part of this series, a victory despite the Bulls’ 13-point lead in the third quarter and through nearly eight minutes of the fourth. “We lost a lot of games at the end, but this time we played like an experienced team,” said Gortat, who supported Nene with 15 points and 13 rebounds.

He knows this, too: “We can win against anybody, but also we can lose against anybody.”

Thibodeau has imprinted his genius all over the Bulls’ season, and adjustments, film study and his grueling practices loom. One of his first messages Monday, and one he delivered Sunday? “Stop giving the 15-footer,” Thibodeau would tell his players as Nene drained jumper after jumper after jumper.

Noah played with a heart that had tended to the death of a close friend and mentor just days ago, and it’s unclear how much the event – much less the travel – had impacted him from New York on Thursday to Bulls practice Saturday. These Bulls had gone on a second half season tear once Noah became a nightly threat for a triple-double, and so his 10-point, 10-rebound, four-assist performance Sunday left a desire for more.

Especially given Nene’s ferocity to bump and bruise bodies with Noah, his comfort with the ball in the high or low post. His fuel to delve deep into his repertoire – fadeaway jumpers, face-up shots, hooks – and those 35 minutes on that body left team officials nodding.

So there Nene was meeting his wife and walking out of the United Center on Sunday, from a mean demeanor on the court, delivering a hard foul on Jimmy Butler, to someone joyous to celebrate a holiday here. “To play on Easter Day is a double blessing,” Nene said.

Nene tossed and turned for hours trying to sleep, anxious about a franchise’s first postseason berth in seven years, and all Nene, Gortat and Ariza could do was smile about a supposed field trip here to learn. Everywhere around the Wizards, everyone knows Nene is capable of these big nights. Twenty-four points, eight rebounds and three assists, force, skill and a 1-0 series lead.

10-Year NBA Win Rank Snapshot

A 10-year season-by-season Win Rank snapshot for an NBA franchise creates an insightful visual narrative.

Toronto Raptors: The quick rise of the 06-07 season ended up becoming an aberration of the Bryan Colangelo/Chris Bosh tenure. The Raptors were never able to become a contender with that roster and they have begun their climb all the way up to 11th this season without a franchise superstar, making Masai Ujiri’s job more difficult and more intriguing.

Brooklyn Nets: The Jason Kidd and Vince Carter trades set the Nets rapidly down to the bottom of the NBA and a costly roster around Deron Williams has brought them back into the top half. A continuation of their M-shaped trajectory is probable due to the nature of constructing a roster via trades and free agency instead of the draft.

New York Knicks: The Knicks haven’t had a top-5 finish since 96-97 and only did the arrivals of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony brought the Knicks out of the twenties, where they’d been in all but one season since 2002. Re-signing Carmelo probably puts them on the M-shaped path of the Nets, while pulling together a better draft pick and multiple max contract slots in 2015 would almost certainly lead to a more sustainable way forward.

Boston Celtics: Since he’s done it before, Danny Ainge appears to again be quickly letting the Celtics get very bad with the hope of getting very good in very quick fashion. The Celtics nearly snuck into The Finals in 2012 despite finishing 10th in the NBA in the lockout-shortened season, but the fairly consistent decline of Pierce/Garnett/Allen is clear in this graph.

Philadelphia 76ers: Sam Hinkie inherited a team visibly on the NBA’s infamous mediocrity treadmill and the decision to begin a full-blown rebuild makes more sense in how badly the previous models were working. The 76ers have had just two top-10 finish since 90-91, as both the Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson eras were unsuccessful in building workable title contenders around future of Hall of Famers.

Indiana Pacers: On the mediocrity treadmill coming out of the Jermaine O’Neal/Ron Artest era, the Pacers very unexpected entered the NBA’s elite with the rise of Paul George and Roy Hibbert, two players not expected to become this good going into the draft.

Chicago Bulls: Squandering their position coming out of the Eddy Curry trade with the Ben Wallace signing and the preference of Tyrus Thomas over LaMarcus Aldridge or Brandon Roy in the short-term, the Bulls shot back up to the NBA’s best with the lottery win for Derrick Rose along with the decision to hire Tom Thibodeau. The Joakim Noah part of the Curry trade is what saved the Bulls from crashing back to the NBA’s bottom third following Rose’s injuries.

Cleveland Cavaliers: The departure of LeBron James in 2010 serves as the first of several L-shaped dives. The Cavaliers’ drop from 7th to 13th after they reached The Finals in 2007 was a stronger indication of the limitations around LeBron in hindsight than we realized when they had the best record in the NBA in 08-09 and 09-10. Despite drafting first overall twice in three seasons and fourth in two of them, there is a lot of work on the roster that needs to be done before they return to the top half of the NBA.

Detroit Pistons: The Pistons were good and then they weren’t very quickly, dropping from 2nd in 07-08 to 17th in 08-09 with the Iverson for Chauncey Billups trading proving disastrous in the short-term that season and the signings of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva with the created cap space mimicking the result in the long-term.

Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks have been moderately up but mostly down since Don Nelson’s departure in the late eighties. With just one top-10 finish since 1989, the Bucks have been consistently average until this 15-win season.

Miami Heat: The Shaquille O’Neal/Dwyane Wade run was always going to be a short one, but the speed of the fall exceeded expectations. Wade was trapped in mediocrity before the arrivals of LeBron and Bosh in 2010.

Washington Wizards: The supposed glory days of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler looks far more modest in hindsight with 12th-15th finishes in those four seasons before injuries hit. The Wizards have been on the Thunder Model since John Wall’s arrival, but they appear to be a James Harden short with Otto Porter being their final high pick before becoming a playoff team.

Charlotte Bobcats: The Bobcats were unable to parlay successive seasons of high picks into more than a team with the 15th best record in the NBA and improving beyond 16th this season will be equally challenging without a pick in this class.

Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks escaped an eight-year run in the NBA’s cellar by jumping onto the mediocrity treadmill. Even as Danny Ferry as stripped significant portions of the roster, the Hawks have remained a playoff team somehow.

Orlando Magic: The Magic climbed steadily as Stan Van Gundy figured out how to construct a system around Dwight Howard, but they didn’t have enough young pieces to make it sustainable. When Howard was traded in 2012, the Magic predictably bottomed out altogether as part of the Thunder Model.

Los Angeles Clippers: The Brand/Cassell/Kaman run was a quick rise and fall for Mike Dunleavy, but winning the lottery in 2009 for Blake Griffin and trading for Chris Paul very quickly propelled the Clippers to the NBA’s elite strata with improvement each of their three seasons together.

Golden State Warriors: The 2007 and 2008 Warriors, built around Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and a young Monta Ellis, were high on entertainment but just slightly above average in wins. The Warriors missed the playoffs in 2008 and then fell back to the bottom third of the NBA when Davis left for the Clippers. A healthy Stephen Curry and a better overall roster gave the Warriors a quick climb to the NBA’s top-10 in each of the past two seasons.

Phoenix Suns: The first year of the graph coincides with the arrival of Steve Nash in which they had the best record in the NBA. The bounce back season in 09-10 from 13th to 5th was the final chance for Nash, as the departure oStoudemire that offseason sent them down to the bottom half.

Sacramento Kings:  The Kings were a top-8 team from 00-01 until 04-05 and this graph shows the quick fall to the bottom of the league where they have been stuck without winning a lottery to draft the type of franchise cornerstone that can turnaround the franchise.

Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers have the most ‘what goes up must come down’ looking graph in the entire NBA. When Shaquille O’Neal was traded in 2004, they dropped to 21st, but quickly returned to 10th in 05-06 and the Pau Gasol trade/Andrew Bynum development made them elite again.

Oklahoma City Thunder: When the Thunder Model is referred to, this is what it looks like in terms of wins. The Ray Allen/Rashard Lewis Sonics fell swiftly from a great 04-05 season to 21st in 05-06 and Sam Presti put his foot on the drowning core. Three bad seasons followed for Kevin Durant, which is even more remarkably bad in hindsight considering how great he’s become, and then their meteoric rise to a perennial top-5 team.

Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers shot up from 24th to 16th to 7th with the Brandon Roy/LaMarcus Aldridge core before injuries derailed their chance at joining the elite. The Damian Lillard/Terry Stotts arrival prevented the Blazers from needing to bottom out and trade away Aldridge.

Minnesota Timberwolves: We’re missing the L-shape franchise player departure we have seen from other clubs since this graph doesn’t include the Wolves’ 03-04 season in which they finished 2nd in the NBA in wins. Kevin Love has brought the Wolves out of the very bottom of the NBA, but several bad drafts has the team weighed down to mediocrity.

Denver Nuggets: The departure of Carmelo didn’t hurt the Nuggets in the short-term, but the absence of an All-Star talent in this past injury-filled season exposed some of the roster construction issues.

Utah Jazz: The Jazz executed a quick rebuild out of the Malone/Stockton era around Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko, but they were a little short of ever reaching the top-5 despite making the 2007 Western Conference Finals. The Jazz fully embraced the youth movement this season by letting Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk.

San Antonio Spurs: Extend this out to 89-90 and the graph is even more impressive. The Spurs have been 10th or better every season except of course 96-97 when David Robinson was injured. The Spurs have been a top-5 team in wins in 18 of those 25 seasons. The gold standard in every way.

Houston Rockets: The Thunder Model will continue to be more frequently imitated, but the Rockets Model will be interesting to study should Dwight Howard and James Harden reach The Finals in one of the next three seasons. The Rockets never dropped below the middle of the NBA coming out of the Yao Ming/Tracy McGrady era, but they were able to construct a well-balanced team around two of the top-10 players in the league.

Memphis Grizzlies: The L-shape appears again with the Gasol trade in 06-07, but the rise back up to the top-10 is quick due to the Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph acquisitions.

Dallas Mavericks: The Dirk Nowitzki/Mark Cuban partnership has only produced one title, but it looks a lot like a slightly lesser version of the Gregg Popovich/Tim Duncan Spurs. The drop from 5th to 14th and 17th following the championship was part of a short-term plan for a long-term rebuilding with the hopes of landing Howard and Williams, but they’ve successively pieced it back together with undervalued assets like Monta Ellis.

New Orleans Pelicans: Chris Paul gave the then-Hornets a rapid turnaround, yet it proved unsustainable with an uncertain ownership and injury issues. Anthony Davis gave the Pelicans the chance to replicate the Thunder Model, but Dell Demps has been instructed to accelerate the timeline with costly moves for Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans.

2014 First Round Picks (Which Teams Own The Picks?)

While RealGM has an excellent database of the draft picks that have been traded between teams, we wanted to put together a summary more focused on the upcoming draft.

The Third Contract

Most players have very little control over their destination for their first two NBA contracts, but the third contract creates a complete shift in power dynamics.

Grading The Deal: Bulls Trade Luol Deng To Cavaliers

The Bulls are effectively writing off a run at the playoffs for financial savings, an improved pick of their own and an additional first rounder, while the Cavaliers continue to go all-in at exactly the wrong time.

Bulls Would Be Foolish To Entertain Parting With Tom Thibodeau

Aside from Derrick Rose, Tom Thibodeau has been the best thing that happened to this management core, a wise and franchise-altering hire three years ago, and now they shouldn’t let his future in Chicago spin and swerve and jeopardize in front of the NBA.

Top-60 Players In NBA Today (Considering Everything)

The goal here is look at overall long-term value of players by considering age, contract, positional scarcity and of course overall quality, without factors like a player’s connection with a franchise or fit within a specific system.

2013-14 NBA Season Preview

While the Western Conference has six teams (Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Warriors) in its first tier, the Eastern Conference is a tier of one (Heat) with the Bulls, Pacers and Nets vying for the second tier.

For NBA's Best, Derrick Rose Returns To Game Fearless – And Confident He's Better

As Derrick Rose went further and further into his comeback, George Hill had grasped an unmistakable trend with what was transpiring between his team’s defense and the 2011 MVP. In many ways, he sought the collisions to reassert that there will be no change in his fearless driving style.

The NBA's Mediocrity Treadmill Since 84-85

The treadmill is somehow both more and less common than some might think. While teams tend to fall within the 30-49 win range, as would be expected in such a competitive league, the dreaded never-ending stream of late lottery picks is uncommon.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Final Edition)

Draft day has finally arrived and while everyone pines for the 2014 class already, this one has the chance to be sneaky good in the 'many quality starters' variety.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Wednesday/Quality Of Opp. Edition)

In this mock, we include the PER of each player based on the quality of opponent. Even statistics in this context can only go so far, but helps move beyond the possibility of inflation against competition that isn't even close to being NBA caliber.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Draft Week Edition)

Entering draft week in a draft universally labeled as weak preceding the best draft of the decade, few people are talking themselves into falling in love with any specific player as fervently as usual.

2013 NBA Draft Board

Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, Otto Porter and Alex Len join Nerlens Noel at the top of our draft board.

The Eliminated (Knicks, Bulls, Warriors, Thunder)

The Bulls, Knicks, Warriors and Thunder won their first round series, but fell short of reaching the NBA's Final Four. Each team faces a pivotal offseason with many decisions to consider.

Kyle Korver Freed With Hawks, Open To Bulls Return

For his part, Derrick Rose was an advocate of Kyle Korver over the past two seasons, both guards benefiting from the facets of their repertories that capitalizes each other best – dribble penetration and outside shooting. As much as anyone, Rose would have loved for Korver to stay with the Bulls.

Your Typical 50-Year-Old

Everyone always talks about how different he is from the average person, but Michael Jordan at 50 sounds like every other 50-year-old. He’s not totally sold on the young kids today and he isn’t sure they would have been as successful back in his day, though that's the wrong question entirely.

2013 Amnesty Primer

As we move forward with “Amnesty 2.0,” we will see the fascinating possibilities that the provision brings even as the number of teams and players left dwindles with time.

Five Second-Year Breakout Candidates

Alec Burks, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Jimmy Butler and Jordan Hamilton are five players that didn't play in the Rookie Game last season that are poised to have breakout campaigns in their second NBA go-around.

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