Melo can’t believe Dwyane Wade left Heat for Bulls



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CHICAGO — Like many people around the NBA, New York Knicks Jerseys superstar Carmelo Anthony couldn’t believe that Dwyane Wade actually decided to leave the Miami Heat Jerseys and sign with the Chicago Bulls Jerseys.

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“I was shocked,” Anthony said before Thursday’s Team USA practice at the United Center. “I was shocked more from a standpoint it was just hard to see. It’s hard to see some players in different uniforms and he’s one of those guys who I never thought I would see in a different uniform other than Miami. But it happened, and I got a chance to talk to him and sit down with him and really dig deep about his feelings and what happened. He’s at peace now. And when he’s at peace, I’m at peace with it.”

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Wade surprised many in the league by spurning the Heat to sign a two-year deal with the Bulls earlier this month. Anthony, who was wooed by the Bulls two summers ago but ultimately decided to re-sign with the Knicks cheap jerseys, acknowledged that the free-agency process can be mentally taxing for players.

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Carmelo Anthony, right, can’t believe that Dwyane Wade left the Heat. Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports

“I don’t think the masses really understand how difficult those decisions are,” Anthony said. “And what goes into those decisions. And as athletes what’s going through our mind during those decisions. A lot of people think we can just wake up and we can just make those decisions — it’s not that easy.”

Anthony’s comments come just a few weeks after two of the most successful Bulls in recent memory, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, landed in New York. Rose was dealt to the Knicks last month. Noah signed as a free agent.

“We love them,” Anthony said. “We love those additions. And we’re looking forward to getting the season going. And I think everybody is excited, the excitement is back. Right now there’s an adjustment on paper wholesale mlb jerseys, but of course we have some work to do putting it all together, making it work. But we’re going to ride the wave of this excitement right now.”

As for a rekindling of a rivalry between the Bulls and Knicks, Anthony said he knows that it’s possible with all the moves both teams have made.

“I know you guys want that,” Anthony said. “I know you’re living for that. But we embrace that. I think as players, as competitors, we embrace all of those challenges and rivalries, that’s what makes the sport great again, so we embrace that.”

Anthony seemed certain that when the schedule comes out, the Bulls and Knicks would be facing off against each other either on opening night or Christmas Day as one of the league’s premiere matchups.

“Oh, they’re waiting for that,” he said. “Might be opening night — one of the two. I guarantee you it’s one of the two.”

Vucevic, Hezonja lead Magic past Bulls

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Magic used a strong defensive effort and a big game from rookie Mario Hezonja to get a relatively easy win over the Chicago Bulls Jerseys.

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Nikola Vucevic scored 24 points, Hezonja added a career-high 21, and Orlando beat Chicago 102-89 on Wednesday night.
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The Magic coasted through the second half with leads as big as 22 points. Victor Oladipo had 17 points and Aaron Gordon added 13 points and 13 rebounds.

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Orlando led 60-50 at halftime and never saw the advantage go under double digits the entire second half.

”This was definitely a step forward,” Magic coach Scott Skiles said. ”I felt like our energy at the defensive end of the floor was good.

”And Mario had a lot of pop in his step. I thought it was overall his best defensive game. He did a nice job chasing people.”

Hezonja, the fifth pick in last summer’s NBA draft, has started three straight games in place of the injured Evan Fournier. Hezonja had 10 points in the first eight minutes of the game, hitting four of five shots, including a 3-pointer. He was matched up against Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy, who had only eight points on 3-for-9 shooting.

”It was good obviously because we got the win, but I’m never happy with myself individually,” Hezonja said. ”I made some mistakes in the first half, but we came up with more energy in the second half.”

Chicago never matched the Magic’s energy at any point in the game. The Bulls, coming off a lethargic effort in a 129-111 loss to Miami the nba basketball jerseys night before, were down by 14 just 10 minutes into the game and never made a serious run at the lead the rest of the game.

”It’s frustrating because we dig ourselves a hole again coming out of the gate,” Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said. ”It’s a trend that must stop if you want to make any kind of push. They scored at will on us, especially on the fast break. Those are baskets that breed confidence.

”We’ve got 22 games left to figure this out.”

Derrick Rose led Chicago with 16 points, all in the first half. Pau Gasol had 12 points and Doug McDermott was the only other Bulls player in double figures with 11. Chicago has lost four straight games and dropped to ninth in the Eastern Conference standings.

”There are no excuses,” Rose said. ”The season is not over. We still have a shot to be in the playoffs. This is foreign ground to a lot of us. We’ve got to find ways to make it up.” View gallery ORLANDO, FL – MARCH 2: Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Orlando Magic Jerseys shoots the ball against the Chicago Bu …

Both teams were on the second game of back-to-backs and it looked it. Orlando hit only 40.2 percent, while Chicago shot just 38.4 percent from the field.

The Magic took a 17-point lead into the fourth quarter and were wholesale jerseys never seriously challenged. Rose and Gasol didn’t play in the final period and the closest the Bulls’ reserves could get was 90-74 with 8:14 left in the game.

The Magic hit five of six shots to start the third quarter, including a 3-pointer by Hezonja that helped Orlando take a 74-54 lead. Payton and Oladipo pushed the pace against the Bulls’ lackadaisical defense and the quick tempo provided plenty of open shots in the 15- to 18-foot range.

The Bulls’ offense also stayed on the perimeter, but without much success. Rose was 0 for 4 and Chicago hit only seven of 24 shots (29.1 percent). The Bulls had nba basketball jerseys only one basket the final three minutes and trailed 84-67 going into the final period.

BULLS FRUSTRATION SHOWING

Chicago’s fourth straight loss left players wondering what is happening to this season.

”Honestly, we have a lot of holes everywhere,” Dunleavy said. ”It’s kind of just across the board. As this thing goes and we continue to struggle, we are not losing too much ground cheap nba jerseys amazingly in the playoff race We just have to hang in there.”

Rose added: ”First off, we have to find out what’s the problem? Is it defense? Is it communication? That is something we are trying to figure out.”

TIP-INS

Bulls: Aaron Brooks Jerseys was ejected with 6:31 left in the game after receiving two technical fouls for arguing. … F Taj Gibson (hamstring) missed his first game this season. … G Jimmy Butler (knee) could rejoin the Bulls for practice Friday, but is not expected to play for another 10 to 12 days. … Chicago has given up 102 or more points in 15 straight games.

Magic: F Evan Fournier missed his third straight game with a sore wrist. … Elfrid Payton tied his season high with 12 assists. … Orlando is allowing opponents to shoot 47.8 percent and average 107.1 points in the last 27 games. … Vucevic made his second 3-pointer this season, just beating the shot clock at the 7:09 mark of the first quarter.

UP NEXT

Bulls: Host Houston on Saturday

Magic: Host Phoenix on FridaySports & RecreationBasketballChicago Bulls JerseysMagic

Curry leads Warriors to 50th win, 102-92 over Hawks

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ATLANTA (AP) — The Golden State Warriors Jerseys reached 50 wins faster than any team in NBA history.

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With their eyes on more than regular-season records, the Warriors improved to 50-5 as Stephen Curry scored 36 points and Golden State bounced back after squandering a 23-point lead to beat the Atlanta Hawks Jerseys 102-92 on Monday night.

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The Warriors eclipsed the mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls Jerseys, who needed one more game to win their 50th. Of course, that’s the team Golden State is chasing, moving another step closer to the record 72-10 mark put up by Michael Jordan & Co. at the height of their six-titles-in-eight-years dynasty.

”Fifty wins is great,” Curry said, ”but we’ve got to keep plugging away and staying hungry, because nobody wants to talk about that in June.”

Curry and the defending NBA champions appeared headed for a rout against the struggling Hawks, pushing out to a 70-47 lead approaching the midway point of the third quarter. Atlanta closed the period on a 28-6 run and grabbed the lead briefly early in the fourth, igniting the sellout crowd.

But the Warriors would not be denied cheap jerseys, bouncing back to hand the Hawks their fourth straight home nba jerseys cheap loss.

”I liked our response,” coach Steve Kerr said. ”They were on fire in their home building. Everything was going against us, and we maintained our poise and pulled away down the stretch. It was a really good win.”

Klay Thompson added 27 points for the Warriors. Both he and Curry knocked down five shots from 3-point range. Draymond Green didn’t do much offensively, scoring only six nba jerseys cheap points, but he had 14 rebounds and nine assists.

Al Horford led the Hawks with 23 points.

”The third quarter is something we can hopefully build off of,” said Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer, whose team had the top record in the Eastern Conference a year ago but has slipped all the way to sixth this season.

Curry put on a clinic in the first half, thoroughly dominating Hawks point guard Jeff Teague.

Perhaps the best sequence came when Curry swished a towering 3-pointer from the corner, the ball seeming to disappear into the rafters of Philips Arena at the height of its arc wholesale nba jerseys. Then, after posing briefly in front of the Golden State bench, he hustled back to the other end to draw an offensive foul on Teague, who looked befuddled by what he was seeing.

At the end of the half, with the clock running down and Teague right in his face, Curry somehow found just enough space to knock down another amazing jumper from the corner, though this one with his foot on the stripe.

Someone on the Golden State bench threw a white towel high in the air – partly to celebrate, partly in disbelief.

The Hawks could’ve thrown in the towel early in the third.

Instead, Atlanta finally showed some fight against the league’s best team, making five 3-pointers and nearly 60 percent of its shots in the period.

The Warriors regained control in the fourth, helped by Curry’s 3 that left him wiggling his shoulders in front of the Atlanta bench.

”He senses when he needs to take over,” Kerr said.

SHARING THE BALL

Golden State had 30 assists in a game for the 29th time this season, a franchise record.

The previous mark was set last season on the way to the championship.

In addition to Green’s team-high assists, Curry doled out eight, Andrew Bogut had four and Thompson chipped in with three.

”It’s a special group,” Curry said.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Improved to 45-0 when leading after the third quarter. It looked as though the Hawks would have the lead heading to the fourth, but a video review showed Thabo Sefolosha’s jumper left his hand a split-second after the clock expired, leaving Golden State ahead 76-75. … Bogut played 29 minutes with a strained right Achilles, grabbing 11 rebounds. … Newly signed Anderson Varejao watched the game from the Warriors bench but didn’t play. He was signed after being cut last week by Portland.

Hawks: Have lost four straight home games for the first time since March 21 to April 1, 2007, according to STATS. … Tim Hardaway Jr. had some effective spurts off the bench, scoring 12 points. … Atlanta made 10 of 34 from 3-point range and is 19 of 75 from beyond the arc in its last two games.

UP NEXT

Warriors: Travel to Miami to face the Heat on Wednesday.

Hawks: Host the Chicago Bulls Jerseys on Friday.

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .Sports & RecreationBasketballGolden State Warriors JerseysStephen CurryAtlanta Hawks JerseysChicago Bulls Jerseys

In MVP race (and NBA itself), elite point guards dominate

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Chris Paul’s true value to the Los Angeles Clippers has never been more obvious than during these 19 games Blake Griffin has been out of the lineup.

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It should not have taken extenuating circumstance to remind the world just how important it is to have an elite point guard in today’s NBA, but it did.

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“People forget, huh?” said Clippers sixth man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford. “People forget what kind of leader he is, and that he’s been right there at the top of the point guard heap for years. He does whatever is needed that night. He doesn’t predetermine what he’s going to do. He plays aggressive, he’s always unselfish and he does whatever is needed to put us in a winning situation. That’s what the great ones do and they do it consistently, whether there is a spotlight on them or not. That’s what CP is all about.”

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To me, it’s like quarterbacks in the NFL these days. Everybody recognizes the importance of the position.

– Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, on point guards in the NBA

Paul, who has led the Clippers to a 15-4 mark in Griffin’s absence, is one of the marquee players at what is undoubtedly the NBA’s marquee position. In this age of pace and space, where the “traditional” big man has given way to hybrid point forwards like Draymond Green and Paul George, having an elite point guard has become a must for teams with designs on contending.

It’s safe to say that like big men in a bygone era and shooting guards after that, point guards rule the roost.

“No question about it,” said a veteran Western Conference advance scout. “It’s the first item on nearly every scouting report, even for the teams that are struggling. It starts with the head of the snake in this era, especially with the way teams are playing and all of the high pick-and-roll sets teams are running. This is the deepest and best pool of point guard talent I can remember.”

There are five points guards on this week’s KIA Race to the MVP Ladder, led by reigning MVP Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, who has held down the No. 1 spot since the start of this season.

Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook checks in at No. 4, Paul at No. 6 and we have two newcomers, too: Toronto’s Kyle Lowry at No. 9 and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas at No. 10.

All five are All-Stars, highlighting the quality and depth at the position league wide.

“To me, it’s like quarterbacks in the NFL these days,” Crawford said. “Everybody recognizes the importance of the position. And if you have a Tom Brady Jerseys, a Peyton Manning Jerseys or better yet a Cam Newton Jerseys, your team has a chance to win big. If you don’t have someone of that caliber, it makes it tougher on everyone else. And that’s just reality.”

It starts with the head of the snake in this era, especially with the way teams are playing and all of the high pick-and-roll sets teams are running. This is the deepest and best pool of point guard talent I can remember.

– anonymous Western Conference scout

That reality will be on full display this weekend in Saturday night’s Super Bowl eve showdown between Curry’s Warriors and Westbrook’s Thunder (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), the first matchup between these two teams since Curry snatched the MVP trophy from Durant and the Warriors replaced the Thunder as the new super-team on the block.

The evolution of both players has been nothing short of remarkable. Curry, the league’s leading scorer, is in the midst of turning the basketball world on its head with his cosmic mix of shooting, scoring and playmaking on the runaway best team in the league. Westbrook, meanwhile, is a walking triple-double these days and has redefined his game and silenced all those who doubted his abilities as a facilitator.

“The improvement that Russell Westbrook has made is glaringly different this year,” said TNT’s Kenny Smith. “Because of his ability to rebound and pass the basketball, and get [Enes] Kanter, get [Steven] Adams involved this year, I would say he’s very improved in that area [of getting teammates involved offensively].”

The growth and development at the position league-wide is what’s truly remarkable. And there is nowhere where that is more evident than in Boston, where Thomas has transformed himself from a super sub into an All-Star.

“The right player at just the right time for that team,” Crawford said of his good friend and fellow Seattle-area native. “It doesn’t surprise me at all to see him in the All-Star Game. He’s exactly what you’re looking for in this new generation of point guards. He can do it all.”

The Top 10 in this week’s KIA Race to the MVP Ladder:

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Curry Goes Off In D.C.

Check out the best from Stephen Curry’s 51 point performance in super slow motion.

Someone in the Silicon Valley needs to fast track a virtual reality device that would allow the rest of us mere mortals to experience nights like Stephen Curry does on a regular basis. A night like he had Wednesday in Washington (51 points, 11-for-16 shooting on 3-pointers, and a little dancing for good measure) has to be on the high end, even for a player who is running away from the pack in the MVP race this season. Curry scored a combined 50 points in the three games before that rout of the Wizards, his lowest three-game total of the season. He made up for that lull in one night.

2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Durant’s Game-Winning 3-Pointer

Kevin Durant crosses-up his defender and sticks the deep triple to take a three point lead with .5 seconds remaining in regulation.

Durant and the Thunder are hitting their stride just in time for Saturday night’s Super Bowl eve showdown against the Warriors at Oracle Arena. His 37 points and game winner against Orlando Wednesday highlighted Durant’s recent tear, he’s averaged 33.8 points on 51 percent shooting (44 percent from deep), 9.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists over the past five games. Durant and the Thunder have designs on doing what no other elite team has been able to do cheap nba authentic jerseys this season against the Warriors. We’ll find out Saturday night if they are up to the task.

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

James Pushes Cavs Past Pacers

LeBron James scores 24 points and adds 12 rebounds as the Cavaliers hold off the Pacers in overtime, 111-106.

The Cavaliers have looked like a completely different team since Tyronn Lue took over for David Blatt, even though LeBron has continued his maestro work (23.8 points on 58 percent shooting, 8.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds in the first week after Blatt) as the catalyst for this crew. He’s helped facilitate the faster pace Lue desires and has made a concerted effort to make sure Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are fully integrated into whatever the Cavaliers are doing. It’s the buy-in Blatt never could get out of this group.

4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Westbrook’s Triple-Double vs. Magic

Russell Westbrook records a triple-double going for 24 points, 19 rebounds and 14 assists in the victory over the Magic.

Westbrook is putting up a monster fight for Draymond Green’s title of “Mr. Triple-Double” this season. He’s currently working on a stretch of three straight triple-doubles and recorded perhaps an even more impressive milestone with his 24 points, 19 rebounds and 14 assists in the win over the Magic. He joined the uber-elite list of Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor and Larry Bird as the only players to pile up those numbers in a game. And he’s the first to do it since Bird accomplished that feat (with 28, 19 and 15) on Jan. 3, 1982 against Atlanta. Westbrook is averaging a wicked 22 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds and two steals in his last 10 games and is more than ready for his matchup against Stephen Curry on Saturday night.

5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Leonard’s Outstanding January

Spurs’ forward Kawhi Leonard is a nominee for the Kia Western Conference Player of the Month in January.

Leonard has come back to earth a bit recently, averaging 17.5 points on 47 percent shooting in his last 10 games. But the way the Spurs spread the ball around, and as LaMarcus Aldridge gets more and more comfortable, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t need to lean on Leonard (or any other single player) to tote too heavy a load. Managing that balance the remainder of the regular season will be one of the Spurs’ biggest challenges. As expected, there’s been no drop off in Leonard’s defensive focus in the days leading up to his first All-Star Game appearance, where his defense will be the last thing anyone cares about in the big game.

6. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Last week’s ranking: No. 6

Paul Solid vs. Lakers

Chris Paul leads the way for the Clippers with 27 points 7 assists as they defeat the Lakers, 105-93.

The Clippers’ four-game win streak came to an end Wednesday against a Minnesota team that has struggled mightily on the road this season. The loss came in part due to a technical foul from Paul in the final seconds, which apologized for afterward. But he nothing apologize for with the way he’s performed without Blake Griffin in the lineup. The Clippers are 15-4 without Griffin on the strength of some of Paul’s best work. The Clippers need Paul at his best with a four-game road trip between now and All-Star Weekend, an Eastern Conference jaunt that starts tonight in Orlando, runs through Miami (Sunday) and Philadelphia (Monday) and finishes in Boston Feb. 10.

7. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Last week’s ranking: No. 8

Green’s Double-Double At MSG

Draymond Green records 20 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Warriors over the Knicks.

Green blamed himself for the Warriors’ tight finish in Philadelphia last Saturday. He said he was selfishly chasing a triple-double that night. He came up short, of course. But rebounded with triple-doubles in his next two outings for his league-leading ninth and 10th, respectively. He finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, two blocks and two steals in a win over the Knicks and 12 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a win over the Wizards. He followed that up with a trip to the White House to celebrate the Warriors’ championship with President Barack Obama. Saturday night’s matchup against the Thunder is the perfect way to cap off a whirlwind week.

8. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Last week’s ranking: No. 7

Butler Delivers In Bulls’ Win

Jimmy Butler scores 26 points with 10 assists, Pau Gasol adds 21 with 12 boards as Chicago takes it 114-91.

The minutes grind Butler has been on all season seems to have finally caught up with the All-Star swingman. Butler missed Wednesday’s win over Sacramento with left knee tendinitis. And he’s listed as questionable for tonight’s game in Denver (9 ET, NBA League Pass). The Bulls, who have had to deal with an avalanche of injury issues in coach Fred Hoiberg’s first season, cannot afford to work for any long stretches without Butler. When you check as many boxes a night as he does, there is no one player capable of replacing him in the lineup for an extended period of time. Butler averaged 22 points, 5 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals in his last four games.

9. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Last week’s ranking: Not ranked

Lowry Gets Better Of Blazers

Kyle Lowry has a big night for Toronto, finishing with 30 points and eight assists as the Raptors defeat the Trail Blazers 110-103.

Lowry and the Raptors have quietly gone about the business of separating themselves from the rest of the pack behind Cleveland in the Eastern Conference standings. After Thursday’s win over the Trail Blazers in Portland (where Lowry survived his eight-turnover night to finish with 30 points, eight assists, six rebounds, two blocks and two steals) the Raptors sit two games behind the Cavaliers for the top spot. And that’s due in large part to the consistent work Lowry and fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan have done leading the way for coach Dwane Casey’s crew. Disappointing performances in each of the past two postseasons has provided the perfect fuel for Lowry and the Raptors’ fire this season.

10. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: Not ranked

Thomas, Celtics Handle Pistons

Isaiah Thomas scores 17 points and dishes out 7 assists as the Celtics defeat the Pistons 102-95.

Don’t look now, but here come Thomas and the Celtics, who have moved into the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Thomas is a week away from enjoying his first All-Star Weekend as a member of the Eastern Conference team. And his team is surging with him, having won seven of their past 10 games and two straight heading into tonight’s showdown against the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass). Thomas, who is averaging 19.6 points, 6.7 assists and 3.2 rebounds during that 10-game stretch, will have his hands full with Kyrie Irving and Matthew Dellavedova on the other side tonight. But that’s just the way the Celtics’ catalyst likes it.

Others Receiving Consideration: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons Jerseys; Paul George, Indiana Pacers Jerseys; James Harden, Houston Rockets; DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors; Paul Millsap, Atlanta

Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

Playoff absence may be best move for Bulls’ future

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Ninth place in the Eastern Conference stinks.

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Eighth place equals four or five or six more games, an exercise in futility in which nemesis LeBron James puts them out of the NBA playoffs for the fifth time in seven years.

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Seventh place means matching up against the Toronto Raptors Jerseys, an opponent against whom the Chicago Bulls Jerseys oddly have had their “number” in recent seasons, though that could change considerably Monday night at Air Canada Centre (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass). The Raptors also have a dynamic All-Star backcourt playing the way Chicago’s was supposed to be and an acceptance that they have something to prove to the league — a humility that seems lost on the Bulls.

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(Oh, and there still is a chance that seventh place means a best-of-seven matchup with Cleveland, if the Cavaliers decide to rest and cruise into the postseason without regard for the East’s top seed.)

Sixth place means taking on a Boston team that has demonstrated how much better life can be with no stars than waiting for and worrying about “stars” the way Chicago has all season. Or it means Miami, the team that just completed its season sweep of the Bulls by scoring 240 points in two games in a span of 11 days.

Fifth place? Fifth place would get the Bulls a nose bleed. No way they’re climbing that high anyway, not over so many teams with so few games left.

So maybe it’s time for the perfectly mediocre, 32-32 Bulls — the team whose preseason billing as the “East’s second-best” now echoes as a taunt — to start making peace with the idea of a lottery finish rather than a last-gasp run to the wire. Breaking a sweat, skinning some knees, looking in the mirror and sneering at what stares back? Nah, that’s more accountability than this team has shown itself to be capable of during its 10-20 meltdown after waking up Jan. 7 with a 22-12 record.

For the folks who still fill the United Center 22,000 strong night after night, whether it’s out of habit, for the show-biz stuff between the basketball or because they’ve been on a waiting list since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen romped there, the 2015-16 season is a combination “Groundhog Day” and the “boy who cried wolf” parable.

Heat vs. Bulls

Goran Dragic goes off for 26 points with 9 assists as the Heat take down the Bulls 118-96.

This is Year 6 of championship dreams forsaken, a process built in reverse in which the Bulls reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2011, had the NBA’s Most Valuable Player that season, didn’t make The Finals and has been disassembling ever since. The scaffolding and girders that dominate the arena’s East side (future atrium and retail complex, with the Jordan statue as its centerpiece) is as stark and incomplete at the moment as vice president John Paxson’s and general manager Gar Forman’s master plan. One of them will be spruced up and completed fairly quickly, the other is going to get uglier before it gets better.

Injuries — to Rose, to Jimmy Butler, to Joakim Noah, to Nikola Mirotic, to Mike Dunleavy and, as of Sunday, to Pau Gasol (swollen knee) — have been crippling and undeniable. But as former Bulls forward Luol Deng noted late Friday, after his Miami team scored 64 points after halftime to yank a game out of Chicago’s grasp, those things predated Tom Thibodeau’s five-year run as coach and surely have post-dated Thibodeau this season.

What set management’s hair on fire as Thibodeau’s recklessness with players’ minutes now is written off as bad luck under new coach Fred Hoiberg, Paxson’s and Forman’s hand-picked successor with a veneer more acceptable to the executive suite. But the defense that was the Bulls’ face to the NBA under Thibodeau is gone now, too. And the offense that his bosses wanted Hoiberg to install as its keeping-up-with-the-Warriors idea is under construction more than your typical Chicagoland tollway.

Apparently the old joke about the city’s seasons applies to the Bulls as well. There’s only two — summer and team construction.

The notion that Butler (expected to play at Toronto Monday), Gasol (a week or two away) and Rose (flip a freakin’ coin) can come back, mesh with the role players (Dunleavy, Taj Gibson, E’Twaun Moore, Bobby Portis) and underachievers (Mirotic, Doug McDermott, Tony Snell, Aaron Brooks Jerseys) around them and flip some switch for the home stretch is naïve. Not to mention narrowly held.

The Bulls’ locker room remains empowered in unaccountability, residue from management turning its own coach into a lame duck all of last season? Telling a full roster of players “Aw, pay no attention to that guy, he’s gone” only makes it harder when you bring back that same roster and suddenly announced, “Now this guy is the one you need to listen to.”

The power in this dynamic resides with the players, more so now than with most teams. Rose made it clear when he tapped out before Friday’s loss to Miami that no team circumstance — a playoff berth in the balance, a game on the line — never again will get between him and his sense of secure game-fitness. Or maybe his marketability for 2017 free agency.

GameTime: Pau Gasol

GameTime sits down with Pau Gasol sits down to discuss Bulls’ season and what they can do to improve.

Butler seems to be moving along Deng’s trajectory in Chicago, game to play whenever possible but achingly aware of the physical toll it’s taking, and heeding it a bit more than his mentor did. nba wholesale jerseys Noah, his season done after 30 games with shoulder surgery, might have played his last game with the Bulls; he’s the heart of the team pulled out and shown to them, as if in a Bruce Lee movie, before they actually die.

As for Gasol, he’s smart enough to see what’s going on and to keep his options open this summer, literally in an early-termination of is contract and figuratively. A double-double guy with surprising triple-double capacity lately, the 35-year-old doesn’t even have to be that cerebral to grasp the math involved.

“The season is winding down,” he said, “and every game that goes by it is [fewer] games left to play, and our margin of error is gone.”

Chicago sports radio last week began bandying about the idea that the “second-best in the East” Bulls might miss the playoffs entirely and whether that might be preferable to the decidedly profitable two or three home playoff games in a one-and-done cameo. Folks who argue against it cite the run seven consecutive postseason appearances, the cachet that could help lure a free agent or two this summer and a subconscious organizational fear of ever returning to the team’s 1999-2004 bleakness.

But with Gasol’s opportunities elsewhere, Noah’s uncertainty and both roster flaws in general and mismatches between the talent base and Hoiberg’s preferred style of play, some serious roster reworking is going to be required regardless. Might as well begin it with a longshot lottery pick.

Maybe ninth place doesn’t stink as bad as the spots just above it for the Bulls this season.

Hoiberg tried to perk up his players’ pride and motivation over the weekend when he spliced into the team’s video breakdown a clip from “Animal House.” It was the one in which John Belushi’s character mangles history in his “Nothing is over” speech.

Frankly, the Bulls coach should have used the Kevin Bacon one from later in the movie.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

Warriors eye history

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SAN ANTONIO — History comes in moments, one snippet at a time.

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Like the scene at the end of the third quarter when Steph Curry held the ball one full tick past the expiring clock and let fly with a long, arcing rainbow from a step past the 3-point line at the opposite end of the court, watched it splash into the bottom of the net, then stood there and smiled anyway.

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Like midway through the final period when Draymond Green kept a possession alive by leaping to save the ball from going into the backcourt, flipping it to Curry, and jumping up and down with a wagging tongue as the most electric shooter of our time 鈥?likely all time 鈥?casually flipped in an 18-foot bank shot over the outstretched arms of two defenders.

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Like that scene just after the final horn sounded when Green and Curry met in an emotional embrace on the court and exchanged words that held a meaning only truly understood by the two of them.

The Warriors won 92-86 on Sunday night to become the first opponent all season to win on the Spurs’ home floor, ended a 33-game regular season losing streak in San Antonio that dated back to Feb. 14, 1997, and, oh yes, tied the legendary, historic Michael Jordan Era Chicago Bulls Jerseys with their 72nd victory.

Curry On Tying Wins Record

Stephen Curry talks with Kristen Ledlow about tying the 1995-96 Bulls 72 wins against the Spurs in San Antonio.

“What does it mean to have 72?” Green said, repeating the question. “We can get to 73.”

That chance arrives Wednesday night at home against Memphis.

History comes in waves, like the relentless sets of breakers that Golden State used to wash over the NBA in a record-setting 24-0 start to the season that planted the flag in the ground and seemed to lift the Warriors up above mere greatness and pushed them on this journey.

All those games and all those nights in all those cities when they took the floor feeling and knowing and playing like they were truly superior to the guys in the other uniforms and never let themselves forget that.

All those other nights when maybe they weren’t at their physical or mental peak and had to somehow find a way to get it done. Like just 24 hour earlier in Memphis when it took digging down deep in the final seconds to pull out a victory over an outmanned bunch of Grizzlies to keep the quest alive.

We put ourselves in a great position to end the season with a win and do something that no team has done in history, so that’s an amazing accomplishment.

– Stephen Curry

If these same two teams meet again in six weeks in the Western Conference finals, this game will mean nothing then. But that doesn’t make it mean nothing today.

“Obviously, we’re in the moment, enjoying the ride and the goal is to win a championship,” said Curry after scoring 37 points. “That’s what we’re playing for. But we put ourselves in a great position to end the season with a win and do something that no team has done in history, so that’s an amazing accomplishment.

“It’s kind of hard to step outside the locker room and understand the spotlight that comes with it or just the hoopla because we come out every night trying to win. But when you think about it, I guess, perspective, only two teams have done what we’ve done so far and hopefully Wednesday we can finish that off. It’s unbelievable.”

Despite the offer, even the wish from coach Steve Kerr, that the Warriors regulars might choose to rest up for the fast approaching playoffs, there was never a question that any of them would sit with their feet up.

“I tried to do it with the way I played and obviously the decision on resting or not was a pretty easy decision for me,” Curry said. “I’m not nursing any injuries, I don’t think putting myself in a position to be a step slow come the playoffs. So why not go out and take advantage of an opportunity that may never come again?”

Kerr, of course, is the link, having played for 20 years ago for the 72-10 Bulls.

Analysis: Warriors Tie Bulls with 72 Wins

NBA TV’s Kristen Ledlow and Steve Smith Jerseys break down the Warriors keys to win and the Spurs offensive struggles.

History comes in memories.

“I thought as a player it seemed like a bigger deal because the players talk about it, think about it,” Kerr said. “We never talked about it as a staff here this year. It’s really a players’ reward, a players’ honor, a players’ record. They’re the ones that go out and play. It probably meant more to me back then personally. But to see the look on these guys faces knowing that they have a chance to break the record and at least they tied it, they’re pretty excited and that’s what’s great about coaching, when you see your team smiling and happy.”

Kerr expected to hear from at least a few of his old Chicago teammates.

“Jud Buechler will call me to congratulate me,” he said. “That’s my guy. Luc Longley will have some snarky joke for me. And everybody discount nba jerseys else will just mutter expletives under their breath and leave me alone.”

Especially Scottie Pippen, who has famously pronounced that the Bulls would have swept the Warriors 4-0 in a playoff series.

“With Pip coming out and saying what he said, that’s cool,” Green said with a smile and a shrug. “We respect those guys. We got one of them in our locker room.

“Mike told me at All-Star: ‘Go get the record. If you don’t win this record, I’m gonna be hot and I’m blaming you.’ We’re almost there.

I don’t know what the emotions are gonna be, but I know we’ll be ready.

– Draymond Green on Wednesday’s finale against the Grizzlies

“I remember watching them at four, five, six years old. But to go back and watch them now and understand what’s really going on, that’s special.

“It’s crazy. When you sit and think that there’s six-year-old Draymond thinking that he knows what he’s looking at but really don’t have a clue. Then to think that there’s a 13-year-old Draymond who’s watching Kobe Bryant and like, ‘Man, that’s my favorite player and I’m star-struck by him.’ Then to one day come in this league maybe [somebody will] have the same affection about us is a blessing and I don’t take it for granted. That’s what it’s all about. To continue to pave the way for younger guys like older guys did for us and leave the game in better standing than it was when you go there.”

Curry was a kid who got a behind-the-scenes look at those famous Bulls as the son of ex-player Dell Curry growing up in the NBA.

“They were synonymous with winning and championship and that word elite,” Curry said. “I do remember going to the Charlotte Hornets Jerseys’ Coliseum and watching my dad play and you knew when the Bulls were town, that was a game you tried not to miss, no matter what my parents restrictions where on going to games on school nights. You tried not to miss the show.

“I remember as a kid being in the back, in the tunnel, hoping to cross paths with Jordan, Pippen, (Dennis) Rodman and Coach Kerr. That was just something that was a special time as a kid. … You knew what it meant when they were in town and playing.”

Now these Warriors are the 21st century Bulls. Now they are the show and you know what it means when they come to town to play. Now they have their chance to take a step above those Bulls on Wednesday night.

“I don’t know what the emotions are gonna be, but I know we’ll be ready,” Green said. “It’s gonna be a great game for us to be in front of our fans with the opportunity to clinch the best record of all time. To bring that back to Oakland? To bring that back to the Bay? It’s special. And we got the opportunity.”

History comes to be embraced.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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Rookie big men netting solid returns on their vast potential

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The regular season is barely a week past the All-Star break, not close to done, and yet the discussion is mid-April closed.

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The rookie big men of 2015-16 who were expected at the start of the season to be unusually good, in a way a crop of newly arrived centers and power forwards haven’t been for years, have been that good. So good, in fact, that it’s impossible to imagine anything happening in the final 30 percent of the regular season to change that opinion.

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It’s late February, and it’s over.

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The point could be made that the bigs have actually exceeded collective expectations because the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, while projected by most front offices to eventually become the best player in the Draft, has had a far greater immediate impact than imagined. General managers picked him to finish second for Kia Rookie of the Year, behind Jahlil Okafor of the Philadelphia 76ers, and yet here is Towns threatening to turn the race into a runaway.

Only one non-point guard or wing has won the award in the last seven years, Blake Griffin in 2010-11. The top three finishers when ballots are submitted in April could be cheap nba basketball jerseys a center (Towns), a power forward (Kristaps Porzingis) and a center (Okafor). Indiana Pacers power forward Myles Turner, meanwhile, has been one of the best rookies since the calendar turned to 2016. Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has earned a spot among the best newcomers despite little preseason buzz because he was drafted in 2014, and as the No. 41 pick at that.

Four months into the season, everything — and nothing — has changed. The rookies have stepped far into their new world by the latest position-by-position breakdown, although with difficulty in some cases, and the bigs have collectively performed at a high level. As expected.

Point guards

NBA Rooks: D’Angelo Russell

As All-Star Weekend approaches, BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge participant D’Angelo Russell of the Lakers talks about the learning curve of a rookie point guard.

1. D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

2. Cameron Payne, Oklahoma City Thunder

3. Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets

4. T.J. McConnell, Philadelphia 76ers

5. Jerian Grant, New York Knicks

Preseason ranking: Mudiay, Russell, Grant, Payne, Delon Wright.

Jan. 1 ranking: Russell, McConnell, Mudiay, Raul Neto, Grant.

Summary: Although still one of the weaker positions of the first-year class, with only Russell in the top 10 of the latest Rookie Ladder, point guard has improved greatly in the last month with Payne and Mudiay playing much better. With Russell in the midst of his best month, shooting well and taking care of the ball better than any time in the first half of the season, and with McConnell continuing to offer solid play under the radar in Philly, there is suddenly decent depth. Not enough that it’s a tough cut to leave someone off the first five, but definitely forward progress.

Shooting guards

Devin Booker Finds His Shot

Check out rookie Devin Booker getting acclimated to the NBA 3-point line this season!

1. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

2. Jonathon Simmons, San Antonio Spurs

3. Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic Jerseys

4. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brooklyn Nets

5. Lamar Patterson, Atlanta Hawks Jerseys

Preseason ranking: Hezonja, Booker, Rashad Vaughn, Norman Powell, Pat Connaughton.

Jan. 1 ranking: Hollis-Jefferson Booker, Hezonja, Patterson, R.J. Hunter.

Summary: Hollis-Jefferson was the easy leader in the first in-season progress report, and then he got hurt. Booker is the clear call in the update just after the All-Star break, and now he is slumping. Shooting guard is every bit the soft spot it was at the start of the season. It may not turn out that way when the Draft class as a whole is re-evaluated in three or five years — Hezonja could still develop into a star, Hollis-Jefferson could still become a steal as the No. 23 pick, Booker could have a long career tormenting defenses from the 3-point line — but 2015-16 has been an undeniably a slow start for this position. It helps, a lot, that Simmons has turned into a tremendous success story by going from an NBA D-League open tryout to getting about 14 minutes a game for the second-best team in the league. Hollis-Jefferson’s healthy return from an ankle injury would be another plus.

Small forwards

NBA Rooks: Justise Winslow

10th overall pick Justise Winslow takes stock of his season so far, including how he’s benefitted from his relationships with Dwyane Wade and Head Coach Erik Spoelstra.

1. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat Jerseys

2. Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons

3. Kelly Oubre, Washington Wizards Jerseys

4. Justin Anderson, Dallas Mavericks

5. Anthony Brown, Los Angeles Lakers

Preseason ranking: Johnson, Winslow, Anderson, Oubre, Hollis-Jefferson.

Jan. 1 ranking: Winslow, Johnson, Oubre, Simmons, Anderson.

Summary: This could turn out to be the start of years of the Winslow-Johnson comparison — small forwards who will get real minutes at other positions, one-and-done college players, potential physical forces on defense, each needing to prove they can make shots, and off the board about the same time in June 2015. (Johnson went No. 8 and Winslow went No. 10.) They have been 1-2 from the beginning, in some order, and will finish the season that way barring a surprise. Oubre, with some of the similar background as the No. 15 selection, has had some encouraging moments and could join the conversation in later years. For now, though, only playing about 11 minutes a game means a significant gap from the lead pack.

Power forwards

Inside Stuff: Towns and Porzingis at All-Star

Inside Stuff goes behind the scenes with Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis as the rookies experience their first All-Star Weekend.

1. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

2. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

3. Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls

4. Larry Nance Jr., Los Angeles Lakers

5. Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte Hornets Jerseys

Preseason ranking: Porzingis, Turner, Willie Cauley-Stein, Kaminsky, Portis.

Jan. 1 ranking: Porzingis, Kaminsky, Nemanja Bjelica, Nance, Richaun Holmes.

Summary: A clear top two, then a bit of a drop to No. 3, then a big drop. But there has been enough production in that third group for the close call of four players with a case for the final two spots — Nance Jr., Kaminsky, Holmes and Lyles. Each has contributed and each has shown the ability to handle prominent roles, Lyles and Kaminsky for potential playoff teams. That’s good depth for a position that has offered pleasant surprises all along, especially with Holmes, Nance and Bjeclia coming from far back of the pack to rank among the best power forwards.

Centers

Kia Awards: Karl-Anthony Towns

Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns is averaging 22.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game in February.

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

2. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers

3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

4. Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings

5. Boban Marjanovich, San Antonio Spurs

Preseason ranking: Okafor, Towns, Jokic, Walter Tavares, Joshua Smith.

Jan. 1 ranking: Towns, Okafor, Jokic, Cauley-Stein, Marjanovich.

Summary: There is no better sign of the strength of the position than Cauley-Stein, a starter having a good season as the first installment to what should be a long career, as the fourth-best center. While Towns took control of the top spot early, for the entire Rookie of the Year race as well as the position breakdowns, the next three have been far more than afterthoughts. All four were in the top 10 of the Rookie Ladder as recently as Feb. 10, just before the All-Star break, and all four could be there at the end amid the possibility of a Cauley-Stein return. Offense will generate most of the attention, especially with Towns and Okafor plus the massive potential there for Porzingis, but there is a lot of defense on this list.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

Despite defeating Cavs, Bulls left with plenty of questions

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CHICAGO — The Chicago Bulls Jerseys finished 7-1 against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. They outplayed the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys in the fourth quarter and beat the defending conference champs in a playoffs-like atmosphere at United Center on Saturday.

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And yet, after the final two games on their regular season schedule, the Bulls are headed home. To lick wounds, to mine what positives they can from their wildly mediocre and extremely unreliable 2015-16, to press their noses occasionally against the glass of the postseason party to which they uninvited themselves and to spin. Always to spin.

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What Bulls fans will get when it’s all officially over, after the Philadelphia 76ers Jerseys drape black crepe Wednesday over another lost season, will be more eulogy than autopsy. “Injuries” will be mentioned a lot and, while they existed and nagged, there’s been nothing like the Derrick Rose blowouts around which Chicago navigated nonetheless to the three most recent of the franchise’s seven consecutive playoff appearances.

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There will be talk about new coach Fred Hoiberg’s challenge in fitting a touted pace-and-space offensive style to a group of players more familiar and comfortable with predecessor Tom Thibodeau’s bark-and-park halfcourt game.

And fans who keep showing up at United Center 22,000 strong, thereby providing no tangible urgency for change, will hear about an offseason devoted to every last button, pulley and lever, about Bulls management being committed to using every apparatus available — draft, trades, free agency — to restore Chicago to playoff respectability.

It might even match in sincerity and staying power the justifications belched up a year ago for paying Thibodeau and his .647 winning percentage as much as $9 million to go away.

So no, the eulogies aren’t going to offer much in the way of explanation for what went wrong for the Bulls this season, literally from the get-go of Rose’s “I’ll be a free agent looking for another pay day in July 2017” Media Day comments in September 2015. For that, you needed to have been paying attention over the past week or so, as Hoiberg, Jimmy Butler, veteran Pau Gasol and a few others dissected the team’s failings while it still was a few blips shy of flatlining.

They definitely step up their game when they see me.

– LeBron James

Gasol rattled off three of Chicago’s most galling failings earlier Saturday, citing “a lack of sense of urgency,” “a lack of awareness” and “a lack of maturity” in the locker room.

“There’s been times where we dropped games, lost games, that we should never have lost, especially at home against certain teams,” the 35-year-old center said. “Those are the times that guys don’t realize how big of a price that you can pay at the end of the year and how much of a different position you’re going to be [in] by those games in November, December, January. ‘Ah, there’s still 40 games to play, there’s still 50 games to play.’ No, those games are just as meaningful as the ones we’ve been playing for the last week or two where our life has been on the line.”

Gasol, whose defensive lapses are as gaping as any of the Bulls, does an admirable job of laying out the what of things gone wrong for the Bulls. What he does not or cannot explain is the how of those nasties infiltrating what was brought back as an experienced, allegedly savvy intact roster from last season.

Was there no one to nip it all in the bud early? No voice that could rise above the rest and command his Bulls teammates to plant their sneakers and say no to that noise? Well, Gasol and Rose don’t have the personalities or the volume in their voices. Joakim Noah, he of the awkward game but fiery heart, was hurt and marginalized.

As for Butler, he grabbed too directly at the team’s leadership reins, generating more eye-rolls than followers. By last week, the self-made All-Star was dropping third-person references to “Jimmy Butler,” still the only Bulls player he really could call out.

Butler did call out Hoiberg early, after a desultory loss to the Knicks in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19, saying the first-year NBA head coach needed to “coach harder” in holding players accountable. There are those who think Hoiberg’s immediate response should have been to sit Butler out of Chicago’s next game, a loss to Brooklyn, to make his authority known up-close and personal. But he did not. Chicago got a nice 7-1 bump (including six playoff-bound opponents) to reach 22-12 on Jan 7, then began its slide back to blah.

Butler’s challenge persists, in its candor and its perspective, as the defining moment of Hoiberg’s first season. It was brought up again, four months after the fact, in pregame questioning Saturday: So, will you be louder and more direct next season?

Jimmy Butler: Should Bulls Trade Him?

Rumors are that the Bulls will explore trading Jimmy this offseason, but should they?

“When I go back and look at the different segments of the season,” Hoiberg said, “we got off to a pretty solid start with this thing. Then some things happened. I think most of that comes from the one comment that was made after the New York game by Jimmy. We had some pretty heated moments with our group, in the locker room, the in-film session. Would I change it and be more vocal, more direct? Maybe. Again, we’ll evaluate that as we go into the offseason.”

Add it to the list, already a long one. Gasol almost certainly is gone, the early-out in his contract offering him at a chance, as he turns 36, to land with a legitimate contender for some late-career fun. General manager Gar Forman’s comments about Gasol as a building block for the Bulls — at a price significantly higher than his current $7.7 million — rang hollow as soon as he said it in February, offered more to stifle chatter about next season than to lay out a real blueprint.

Noah might or might not be back, his game less valuable to the Bulls than his presence. Rose and Butler claim they’ll work out together this offseason to improve their chemistry and communication, though it’s easy to imagine a summer stalemate in which the former in L.A. and the latter in San Diego each expects the other to make the I-5 drive.

VP John Paxson and Forman are safe because that’s the way newly enshrined Hall of Famer, Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, rolls with his executives. And Hoiberg has the dual job security of being Forman’s choice as coach even before the position was vacant and of having four years and $20 million left on his deal. It wasn’t Hoiberg’s fault he was undercut well before his arrival, by management telling the locker room “Aw, don’t worry what the coach wants” all of last season.

The Bulls’ championship ambitions, for this bunch at least, are ending with more whimper than bang. LeBron James, who normally puts them down each spring, instead gave them a pat on their heads and a sideways shot on his way out of town Saturday, heading to far better things.

“The Chicago Bulls Jerseys team that plays us is not going to be the one that’s struggling a little bit off and on, as of late,” James said. “They always play well versus us. It’s like human nature — when they see me, it’s like ‘OK.’ They wish I wore every uniform at this point. They definitely step up nba basketball jerseys their game when they see me.”

Except that the struggle hasn’t been a little bit, merely off and on, or just of late. It got addressed in this space quite a while back, both here and here.

What it has been is an embarrasingly blown opportunity in which Rose has played in 66 games, Gasol at 35 has put up 46 more double-doubles and Butler again reached All-Star status. The defense drooped, the offense never got traction, and rosy talk in training camp about Doug McDermott, Tony Snell and Bobby Portis has given way to rosy talk on the brink of elimination about Cristiano Felicio, Justin Holiday and E’Twaun Moore.

But hey, the Bulls are 7-1 against the best in the East and 11-5 against the top six teams in the NBA this season. You can do the math for how they’ve done against everybody else, those more of their ilk.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

Gawking a natural byproduct of James’ unique NBA career

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In This Week’s Morning Tip
Top 15 Rankings: Thunder rise, Raptors slip
Which team has been this season’s most disappointing squad?
Q&A with Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard

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I am a man in love with words.

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Given a chance to do something memorable or say or write something memorable, I will always choose the latter. (Perhaps it’s because God, in the Supreme Being’s infinite wisdom/sense of whimsy, looked upon me at birth and said, ‘he shall have no athletic abilities whatsoever.’)

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Finding the right word to perfectly describe a situation or setting is very important to me. It delights me that there is a word that is used in one setting, and one setting alone, and it perfectly describes its situation.

The word is “rubbernecking.”

The Association: Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys

Take an all-access look at the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers as they make their playoff push.

It refers to the traffic jam that occurs on the other side of a road or highway, opposite the side on which an accident has occurred. It is not used in any other context, because it is not applicable to any other context. (You usually only hear it on the radio on the all-news station during the local traffic report, as in “accident on I-495 West; rubbernecking delays on 495 East back to the American Legion Bridge.”)

But why do people rubberneck?

What is it about seeing an accident on the other side of the road that compels us — all of us — to slow down and take a good, long look at what happened? We are fascinated, and horrified; ohmigod, look at that car. He’s still in the car! Ohmigod. Is there an ambulance coming? Jeez, that’s awful. We are repulsed by what we see; we can’t get enough of it. We slow down, like the firefighters in”Roxanne,” and take a good … long … look.

Yet, in a different context, I understand the concept of rubbernecking.

Because, what LeBron James says fascinates me.

And what LeBron James says horrifies me.

I can’t turn away.

Fascinates, because James is the living embodiment of what every player dreams about becoming: the employee who answers to no one in the company. His world is the confluence of so many factors which never seemed possible: no player could ever make so much money off the floor that he literally doesn’t need the (max) paycheck from his team (among his many investments: Blaze Pizza, which James said last week started with two stores, tripled sales last year and doubled the number of restaurants around the country).

No African-American athlete in a team sport has ever been given the autonomy to put his imprint on an entire organization, on the floor and off, and never be blamed/fired/traded after any failures. (Michael Jordan desperately wanted the Chicago Bulls to trade for Walter Davis. Jerry Krause never did so. That was, Krause thought, part of the job — to say no.)

Horrifies, because James is not a boxer, or a tennis player, rightly concerned only with himself and his well being. In those sports, the individual is ascendant. If Serena Williams doesn’t like what her hitting coach is doing with her serve, she would be expected to change the coach — she’s the one out there by herself trying to win and make money. Same with Tiger Woods, who’s gone through any number of coaches over the years. It’s his swing.

But James plays a team sport. Chemistry in a locker room does not exist in a vacuum, nor is it guaranteed to remain once acquired. It is in constant flux, always vulnerable to outside influence or internal discord. Every day in an NBA locker room is a question: why should I sacrifice for you? Or for him?

The Cavaliers, as we have seen much of this season, are still not sure about the answer.

This is not all James’ fault. But he does not appear that he’s leading his team toward solving the riddle. He leads by deed, by practice. His words are another matter.

James told Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck last month, in a story published last week, about his desire, before his career is over, to play with his close friends Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. James said he would like to play with them for “at least one, maybe one or two seasons … I would actually take a pay cut to do that,” as he put it. “It would be pretty cool. I’ve definitely had thoughts about it.”

GameTime: Jason Lloyd

Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal joins the GameTime crew to discuss the current state of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys.

Say what?

I don’t think James was saying he would leave Cleveland in June for, say, Miami or Los Angeles. But I don’t think he was saying something off the cuff. He has thought about this, and he wants it to happen — or at least as much of it as possible. Maybe not Wade, but Anthony and/or Paul, for example.

Here’s the problem, if you’re currently getting dressed in the same locker room with James is this morning.

James is 30, not 20. He’s already in his 13th NBA season, with another two-plus years of playoff wear and tear on his body — not to mention the strain of his three Olympic team appearances. He’s not going to play another decade. If he truly wants to play with ‘Melo, D-Wade, etc., it’s not some far-off, next decade notion. It’s something that would have to happen sooner rather than later. And keeping him in Cleveland would require GM David Griffin to take apart the Cavs’ current core of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and/or Tristan Thompson.

Seriously: how do Irving and Love digest an on-the-record comment from James that he’d not only love to play with his equally high-profile friends, but that he’s thought about it a lot? The whole preamble to what James said was significant detail on how James and Wade had tried to convince Anthony to sign a short contract in 2007 that would have made him, like them, a free agent in 2010 — and free to come to Miami. (Instead, Anthony signed a five-year deal with the Denver Nuggets.)

James is his own nation-state. Nobody in Cleveland has the juice to publicly chastise him for much of anything, other than coach Tyronn Lue saying maybe he shouldn’t yuk it up with Wade at halftime of a game the Cavs are trailing by 21.

The Starters: Cavs Need Enforcer?

Is LeBron talking about Kendrick Perkins or does he mean something else?

Words matter.

Caveats follow.

Of course Irving and Love knew the pluses and minuses of what being in the LeBron fishbowl would be. Both never seriously considered free agency when the opportunity was available. Irving took a five-year, $90 million max extension in 2014, the first domino that led to James’ return. Love re-signed in Cleveland last summer for $110 million.

Some point out that James actually said all this Feb. 8, just before NBA All-Star 2016, when he was about to play with ‘Melo and D-Wade on the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and may have had the dream scenario on his mind. (Devil’s Advocate here: one could argue that’s even worse, as the Cavs were in the midst of one of their better stretches in late January and February, just after firing David Blatt, winning 10 of 12 games. Why would he pick that time to talk about playing with other guys?)

And: James is entitled to dream — “fantasy basketball,” as someone who knows him well said Sunday — without it being taken literally. I’d love to date Halle Berry, except for one small detail. Well, she’s not small; she’s 5-foot-4. And we’ve been married for almost 17 years. (Hi, honey! Love you!)

And, yes, James’ every utterance is parsed within an inch of its life by an insatiable media that overanalyzes everything he says and does (the words “click bait” are muttered in the Cavs’ organization when discussing local and national stories written about James). Surely, his comment that he’d quit the game if he’d been on a team that blew a 13-point lead in the last minute of a game (as Northern Iowa did in the NCAA Tournament) played long and loud in the Hawkeye State. And that is not fair.

Nor is the speculation that James was sending some kind of secret message last week by unfollowing the Cavs’ official Twitter account and other Twitter accounts. (The explanation from his camp was he was getting ready for the playoffs by eliminating potential online distractions; as he also unfollowed Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins, to whom he gave his first-person account of returning to Cleveland in 2014. He has become a confidante, so this certainly seems like a reasonable explanation.) But that’s also the reality of someone who lives a large chunk of his life on social media.

The bigger issue is not what James said, but that he once again has complete impunity to do so.

Dan Gilbert tried tough talk, in hilarious Comic Sans fashion, in 2010. Four years later, he begged the man he called “our former hero” in that missive to come home, mistakes having been made (the passive voice seemingly always the voice in which public figures acknowledge their errors; not “I screwed up,” but “screw-ups occurred”). And Gilbert has been pretty quiet since.

The Starters: Biggest Threat To Cavs In East?

Brent Barry joins The Starters to discuss which of the Heat, Raptors or Pacers has the best shot at knocking off Cleveland.

And there is no one in the locker room remotely capable of saying or doing anything that he would feel compelled to heed. Understand this: there are maybe four or five people on earth that could do so, which is part of the challenge of putting a team around James. His knowledge of the game is unassailable; his physical gifts still formidable. There really aren’t that many other people who can tell him much about basketball. Alpha males don’t have antennae for non-alphas.

That is Griffin’s fault.

The Cavs thought tabbing Lue as Blatt’s replacement would at least put a person in charge that James would respect, and hold accountable, and he does. But it’s still a heavy lift for a young coach who’s just finding his own voice and does have to coach the rest of the team as well.

This is the problem in Cleveland: James is still well worth all the drama. When he is feeling good and fully engaged, as he was at the Garden Saturday against the Knicks in a triple-double performance, he is still one of the two or three best players on earth. He is still capable of putting a team on his (aching) back and will it to The Finals. He can still bring that championship to the ‘Land.

But the clock is always, always ticking in LeBron’s world, with his next big thing always right around the corner.

We will all be rubbernecking.

TOP O’ THE WORLD, MA!

 

(previous rank in brackets; last week’s record in parenthesis)

1) Golden State [1] (4-0): They’re 66-7. They’re going to break the Bulls’ record. I never really thought that was possible. But it is. And they will.

Sixers vs. Warriors

Klay Thompson goes off for 40 points as the Warriors beat the 76ers 117-105.

2) San Antonio [2] (2-2): You thought The Great Resting would stop just because the Spurs beat the Warriors a week ago?

3) Cleveland [3] (3-1): There’s no chance this could have ended well, for either party.

4) Oklahoma City [5] (3-0): Defensive Rating during seven-game win streak: 101.8 points per 100 possessions, No. 6 in the league; 100.1 points per game allowed, No. 5 in the league.

5) L.A. Clippers [6] (2-1): Blake Griffin should return from his four-game suspension next Sunday and the team has gone 28-14 in his absence this season. Yes, they still have Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick, but that record is remarkable. Props to CP3 for showing amazing leadership this season.

6) Toronto [4] (1-2): Raptors can finally reach the 50-win plateau for the first time in franchise history with a win tonight over the Thunder (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass).

Raptors vs. Pelicans

All five Raptors starters score in double figures as they defeat the Pelicans 115-91.

7) Boston [8] (3-0): Still says here that the Celtics may wind up being the team that finally beats Golden State at Oracle.

8) Miami [9] (2-1): Josh Richardson numbers, post-All-Star break: 19 games, 27.3 minutes per game, 11 ppg, 55.8 percent shooting, 61.4 percent on 3-pointers, True Shooting Percentage in March of .689.

9) Atlanta [10] (3-1): Dennis Schroder present and accounted for, sir!

10) Charlotte [11] (3-1): One and a half games out of third in the Eastern Conference, a game behind third-place Atlanta in the loss column. Charlotte has not had a top-four team in the East since the first iteration of the Hornets’ franchise, then in New Orleans, finished fourth in 2002.

Hornets vs. Bucks

Nicolas Batum scores 25 points along with eight rebounds and seven assists to lead the Hornets past the Bucks, 115-91.

11) Memphis [7] (1-2): Grizzlies current offense: give the ball to Lance Stephenson. Clear a side. Watch. They could do a lot worse.

12) Indiana [12] (3-1): Per the NBA, the Pacers’ win over Philadelphia last Monday at Bankers’ Life Fieldhouse assured Indiana of a 27th straight season with a winning record at home, the longest current streak in the league.

13) Detroit [15] (3-1): Getting Tobias Harris from the Magic for Brandon Jennings on the short list for Sneaky Good Trade of the Year.

14) Portland [13] (2-1): Losing Meyers Leonard for the season is a blow to the Blazers’ upset chances in the first round.

15) Utah [NR] (2-1): Favorable schedule for the Jazz in its fight with Houston and Dallas for the final playoff spots in the west: Utah plays six of its last nine games at home and doesn’t go east of Denver in any of its last three road games.

Jazz vs. Timberwolves

Derrick Favors scores 19 points and Gordon Hayward adds 18 as the Jazz defeat the Timberwolves, 93-84.

Dropped out: Dallas [14]

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Brooklyn (2-1): Back-to-back impressive wins over Cleveland and Indiana, plus a five-point loss to one of the league’s hottest teams, the Hornets. The Nets’ young guys (Sean Kilpatrick, Shane Larkin, etc.) are making the most of their chance under interim coach Tony Brown — who’s not doing a bad job making a case for himself, either.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Dallas (0-3): Mavs’ defense in March: 112.8 points per game, 3-10 record, currently out of the playoff race in the Western Conference.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT …

 

Who’s been the most disappointing team in the league this season?

This is not an objective question, “disappointing” having many different starting points (though it’s hard to imagine real disappointment in Philly or Brooklyn, two teams hip-deep into rebuilding). Every team not in the playoffs or in the playoff chase is obviously not happy. Even teams that are currently in can believe they should be in a better position.

But the question isn’t unfair. Expectations are a real thing, and how a team deals with them is an important part of assessing whether the players, coaches or management in place on a given team has been up to the challenge.

You can take the talk radio approach and say everyone should be fired and/or traded. That’s not the suggestion here. One season’s disappointment can fuel a resurgence the following year.

Witness how the Raptors have rebounded from getting swept in the first round last year, or how OKC has returned to form after injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook kept the Thunder out of the 2015 playoffs.

There are a few teams who have underachieved this year.

Many people thought the Milwaukee Bucks were ready to take the next step — including us at NBA TV, who did a Real Training Camp with them in Wisconsin before the start of the season. Milwaukee had come on strong the second half of last season and gave the Bulls a real fight in the first round of the playoffs. The Bucks were long and a defensive menace of a team, with Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way. They added one of the top free agents on the market last summer in center Greg Monroe.

The Association: Milwaukee Bucks

Vince Cellini has the story of a Milwaukee Bucks team trying to fight through a slow start to prove that last season was no fluke.

But the Bucks haven’t sustained their momentum. They’ve fallen off a cliff defensively, dropping from second in Defensive Rating last season (99.3 points per 100 possessions) to 19th this season (105.6). The offense has improved some with Monroe and the return of a healthy Jabari Parker, along with Antetokounmpo taking over for the injured Michael Carter-Williams at the point. But Milwaukee is not going to make the playoffs in an improved (but hardly formidable) Eastern Conference.

At least the Bucks have time on their side: Antetokounmpo, Parker, Khris Middleton, Carter-Williams, rookie guard Rashad Vaughn and reserve big Johnny O’Bryant are all under 25. Maybe we were all just a year or two early in announcing the Bucks’ arrival.

Houston is also a prime candidate. The Rockets laid the blame for their poor start at coach Kevin McHale’s feet, but Houston has been the same .500-ish group after firing McHale on Nov. 18 that it was before. Coaching isn’t the problem. McHale and interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff know what they’re doing, and this is basically the same team that made the run to the Western Conference finals last year.

But even though James Harden has established career bests in points, rebounds and assists this season, the Rockets have regressed. Harden Vines have again become all the rage, showing his inattention to defense. Power forward has been a mess all season, with Terrence Jones injured and ineffective in 2015-16 and Houston willing to move Donatas Motiejunas to Detroit in a since-rescinded trade. Josh Smith Jerseys walked away in the summer to the Clippers, but his return in a January trade hasn’t re-awakened his stellar play from last season.

James Harden’s Mixtape

Check out James Harden’s sick NBA Mixtape and tune in to Saturday’s Primetime ABC game as the Rockets take on the Chicago Bulls at 8:30ET!

Michael Beasley, fresh off a stint in China, has already become one of the team’s best and most important players.

The Rockets have slipped some this season at their bread and butter, 3-pointers. They were 14th in 3-point percentage in 2014-15 (34.8 percent), but rank 22nd (34.4 percent) this season. That’s not a catastrophic fall there. Where Houston has gone over a cliff this season is defense.

Last year, the Rockets were sixth in the league in Defensive Rating, allowing 100.5 points per 100 possessions. They were tops in the NBA in defending 3-pointers last season, allowing just 32.2 percent. Their opponent’s Effective Field Goal Percentage, which factors in the impact of threes on overall shooting, ranked 24th in the league (.486).

We just haven’t found any consistency, and that’s the struggle we’ve been having. It’s the same team. We didn’t have a really good start, and it kind of carried throughout the entire year.

– James Harden, on his Houston Rockets’ struggles

All those numbers are worse this year. Much worse.

Today, Houston is 22nd in both Defensive Rating (106.1 points per 100) and defending 3-pointers, with their opponents’ percentage up to 36.3 percent. Their opponents’ Effective Field Goal percentage is up to 52.8 — almost a 180 from last year — as Houston has gone to eighth worst in that department this season.

It’s all left the Rockets in a dogfight with Utah and Dallas for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

“We have some really good games, and then we just let up a few,” Harden said Tuesday.

GameTime: Western Conference Playoff Race

The GameTime crew discusses the Western Conference playoff race as the season winds down.

“That’s kind of been our model all year,” he continued. “We just haven’t found any consistency, and that’s the struggle we’ve been having. It’s the same team. We didn’t have a really good start, and it kind of carried throughout the entire year. And a lot of injuries and things like that kind of nagged around. Like I said, it’s been tough. These last 10 or so games, we’ve been better. Just trying to figure it out and get as many wins as we can.”

Yet the Washington Wizards Jerseys is in even worse shape than the Rockets. The Wizards are 2.5 games behind eighth-place Detroit in the East with nine games to play, making them an increasingly long shot playoff team (even though they have the tiebreaker over the Pistons).

This was not supposed to happen. Washington was looking to build on last season, make another extended playoff run, and wait for Kevin Durant to sign on the dotted line. The Wizards gambled, bringing in a bunch of veterans on short deals to preserve cap room for Durant and to eventually extend Bradley Beal. But the gamble, so far, has backfired.

Washington has had its share of injuries, but the failures this season to become a pace-and-space offense — which directly led to a collapse of a defense that had been one of the league’s best the last few years — are much more to blame.

The Wizards have had a half-dozen inexplicable losses for a team looking to build on a second straight semifinals appearance. Among them: a sweep by the Nuggets this season, a loss to the Bucks just before the All-Star break and home losses to the Lakers, Knicks and Timberwolves, the last in double overtime on Friday after Washington blew a seven-point lead with 2:23 to play. (The Wizards were not helped by an unusual number of missed calls down the stretch.)

Timberwolves vs. Wizards

Karl-Anthony Towns scores 27 points and grabs 10 rebounds as the Timberwolves defeat the Wizards 132-129 in double overtime.

“We have too many hangovers,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said Friday. “We win four in a row, you lose five in a row. Then we come right back and win five in a row. Now, what’s this (loss) going to be? We play Atlanta back-to-back; they’re a good team. They played hard, and they were better than us that night. We were better than them the night before. Now, you’ve got to end that.

“You’ve got to win six out of seven, then you’ve got to make it seven out of eight. And we’ve had a tough time all year when you’ve got a (winning) string going, and you lose a tough game, or you lose, and it just carries over. And it carried over (Friday).”

After seeing Paul Pierce and Otto Porter maul the Raptors in the first round last year, and almost pull off an upset of the Hawks in the semifinals with Wall missing three games (broken hand), the Wizards believed they needed to go small and shoot 3-pointers this season.

They benched Nene Jerseys, who had teamed with Marcin Gortat the previous two years to make Washington almost impregnable in the paint, in favor of Jared Dudley, who was just coming off of back surgery. (It’s hardly all Dudley’s fault, but even when healthy, he’s a very undersized four.)

I think at the start of the season we didn’t talk about team defense. We were worried about playing up-tempo and not focusing on that.

– Washington Wizards Jerseys star John Wall

Porter has been good, but not the player he was in the playoffs last year, when he averaged 10 points and 8.0 rebounds in 33 minutes, and shot 37.5 percent on 3-pointers. But all of that pales to Washington’s defensive regression.

Last season, the Wizards were fifth in the league in Defensive Rating (100 points per 100 possessions). This season, they’re 15th (103.9). Last season, the Wizards were ninth in points allowed (97.8). This season, they’re 21st (104.4). Last season, they were tied for 14th in opponent 3-point percentage (.349); this season, they’re 27th (.369).

“We lost a lot of games we should have won, just being terrible defensively all year,” Wall said. “That’s the reason why we’ve lost basketball games, because you couldn’t guard one on one, just stopping teams from rebounding the ball and stuff. I think at the start of the season we didn’t talk about team defense. We were worried about playing up-tempo and not focusing on that. And then when we got focused on that, we was a good defensive team again.”

The Wizards have turned up their D of late and boast a 102.2 Defensive Rating so far in March. But it might be too late. To be fair, two weeks remain in the season. Maybe the Wizards can catch fire, get right and sneak in. But, right now, it’s hard to think of a team that expected more coming into the season and has accomplished less.

How on earth did they wind up in this predicament?

“I wish I knew, Beal said Friday. “I wish I knew. I wish I knew.”

… AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

Eureka! From Matt Brubaker:

I know it is only one game, but the Spurs’ defense of Stephen Curry looked an awful lot like Oscar Robertson’s comments on how to defend Curry. Do you think the Big O’s strategy was proven right by Pop and crew? Or was it a case of a superior effort given by the fresher team against a Warriors squad on the back end of a grinding stretch of games over the past week and a half? Either way let’s all hope we find out over the course of seven playoff games.

Inside Access: Warriors vs. Spurs

In a highly anticipated meeting of the two top teams in the NBA, the Spurs evened the series out at one game apiece with the Warriors.

It’s hard to take too much from any one game in a season, Matt. The Spurs had a good night defensively, but the Warriors had one of their worst shooting nights this season. As the scientists like to say, correlation does not imply causation. That’s not to say the Spurs can’t beat Golden State four times in a playoff series, only that there’s no magic bullet to beat a team that’s 66-7. It will take some combination of adjustments, luck with injuries and good fortune — that is, someone in blue and gold that hasn’t missed many open shots all season will have to do so at critical moments in May or June.

Minnesota Nice. Very, very nice. From Assi Peles:

I’ve been watching Timberwolves games this season and Karl-Anthony Towns has been a monster.

He’s winning the ROY award by a landslide an, IMHO, he is the best player on his team (Andrew Wiggins included).

Could you comment on who he reminds you of most? Is he a young KG, or a young(er) Anthony Davis Jerseys?

All things considered (injuries) is it fair to say he has a higher ceiling than AD? Or that he is already better??

Kia Awards: Karl-Anthony Towns

Karl-Anthony Towns is a nominee for the Kia Western Conference Rookie of the Month.

To answer your last questions first: no and no. But Towns does resemble Davis. I’d say their ceilings are equally high; both demonstrated early they can get after it at the defensive end, both at the rim and in space (watch Towns’ work here Friday night against Bradley Beal). Scouts knew Towns could shoot it in high school, though he didn’t get to display that much at Kentucky. While he wasn’t prolific from the perimeter before going to Lexington, Davis has expanded his range rapidly since turning pro.

But, he can’t stress this enough, he loves my work. From Barry Benjamin:

I get it, the MVP watch is a very rough measure of an overall body of work. It’s entirely subjective. It’s DA’s own personal opinion, to which you are eminently entitled — it’s your column!

But: Durant and Westbrook at No. 3 and No. 4? Shouldn’t winning count for something in the MVP analysis? Your column dropped Sunday night/Monday morning on March 14. From the All-Star break to your column dropping, OKC played 12 games. They lost eight of them. Eight! They’re record since the All-Star break was 4-8! That’s ‘tuurrrible’ as one of your colleagues might say. And OKC still gets not one, but two MVP candidates? Come on, DA!

I just read somewhere about how great Damian Lillard is — oh yeah, it was right above your MVP analysis, in that same column! Chris Paul’s Clippers squad drops off big time when he’s off the floor! Kyle Lowry is bulldogging the Raptors to the No. 2 spot in the East! And you go with two (not one, but two!) guys whose team dropped eight of 12? You’re better than that DA!

What could I possibly be thinking, putting the two guys most responsible for a team being 51-22 and winners of seven straight (including vs. San Antonio on Saturday night) on my MVP Watch list? Of course I should have Lillard, of the 38-36 Blazers, ahead of Durant and Westbrook, or players on other teams whose records are worse than OKC’s. Because one bad stretch during an otherwise very strong season is what should determine MVP status. I guess.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and shoes for all those tiny feet to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(last week’s averages in parentheses)

1) Stephen Curry (26.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 8 apg, .473 FG, .857 FT): Fascinating reporting by Ethan Strauss on how Under Armour got Curry in its stable (with a major assist from the unlikely Kent Bazemore), while Nike stood by and did next to nothing to keep him.

2) Kawhi Leonard (23.5 ppg, 7 rpg, .514 FG, .778 FT): Missed last two games with a right quad contusion.

3) Kevin Durant (24.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 5.3 apg, .560 FG, .769 FT): KD’s decision to wear his new KD Elite 8 PEs with built-in knee-high compression socks was not met with universal love.

4) Russell Westbrook (21.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 10.7 apg, .451 FG, .900 FT): A list of guys in the last 20 years that bring it every night like he does: Dennis Rodman, Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning. There are others, but that’s good company.

5) LeBron James (29 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 8.5 apg, .564 FG, .742 FT): All right-thinking people are praying for a Cavs-Heat semifinal playoff series, with LeBron going against his old squad — who will hopefully have a healthy Chris Bosh able to give Miami quality minutes off the bench.

I’M FEELIN’ …

1) If you know the man at all, you know Craig Sager will keep fighting, and never, ever give up. See you in the playoffs, my dude.

The Starters: #SagerStrong

The Starters show their support for Craig Sager, who continues to fight a battle with cancer.

2) There is nothing intelligent that can be said about the terror attack in Brussels that has killed more than 30 people, with hundreds injured. We can only be glad that many survived, including Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo, who was in the airport when the bombs went off.

3) I did not know that the Rockets had brought Clifford Ray in to help coach Dwight Howard. Good for them. He is a proud and talented man who has won a championship, and has only wanted to help make big men better players. Glad someone has given him a chance.

4) I crossed paths with Fran Dunphy for a brief period in the 1980s, when he was on the bench at American University and I was an undergrad there who helped out in the athletic department. But I’ve admired him for many, many years as he moved on to bigger and better things, ending up at Temple, where he’s coached the Owls with distinction for many years. And so I’m not surprised at all that he not only took a brutal loss in the NCAA Tournament last week with grace, and allowed an 11-year-old boy to ask him a question after that brutal loss in the postgame news conference. He not only took the question, but answered it in a beautiful way that made the boy feel good. That is what “Sir Francis” has always done, because he did the same for me and other kids at AU so many years ago.

NOT FEELIN’ …

1) A state can do whatever it wants if it believes such actions reflect the will of its citizens. So, the North Carolina General Assembly is free to call a special session to pass legislation that essentially reverses an anti-discrimination ordinance passed last month by the Charlotte City Council.

But private businesses — and, the last time I checked, the NBA is a private business — have the right to take actions reflecting the will of their employees, too. I can’t and don’t speak for the NBA, but it’s hard to believe the league would want to do business in a state whose legislators can pass a bill allowing businesses to discriminate against gay men and women, using the flimsy pretext that a man could potentially use a woman’s bathroom for predatory purposes by claiming to be transgender. Next year’s All-Star Game is in Charlotte. It does not have to remain in Charlotte. And it should not remain in Charlotte if this remains the position of the General Assembly. The NBA has 27 other cities (I am assuming it wouldn’t return immediately to Toronto, where this year’s game was, or go to L.A., where the 2018 game has been awarded) in which it can have its showcase event.

This league celebrated when Jason Collins came out. It has been there for people like Rick Welts, the Warriors’ CEO and the highest-ranking openly gay executive in team sports. It has chosen a side, consistently, over the years — the side of inclusion and acceptance. By allowing the All-Star Game to remain in Charlotte in the face of this legislation, it will be on the opposite side. And that would be wrong. The league put out a statement Thursday saying it is “dedicated to creating an inclusive environment for all who attend our games and events” and that it is “deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter to our guiding principles of equality and mutual respect and do not yet know what impact it will have on our ability to successfully host the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte.”

It is right to give North Carolina time to assess whether it really wants this law to remain on the books. But the league needs to make its position clear: if the law stays, the NBA will not be in Charlotte next year. Period.

2) The Bulls don’t just look tired and bad, and nothing like a contender at present. They look like a team that’s already not heeding their coach, after less than a year. And that is scary stuff if you’re the management that hand-picked Fred Hoiberg to replace Tom Thibodeau.

GameTime: Bulls’ Woes

The GameTime crew discuss what is wrong with the Bulls as they chase a playoff spot.

3) Bad news on Anthony Davis Jerseys’ knee, but it could have been worse, one supposes. At least he won’t have to have his shoulder cut on as well.

4) RIP, Ken Howard — aka, The White Shadow”, one of the most memorable shows of my adolescence. It was so rare in those days for there to be a TV show not only with people of color, but people of color in authority over their white counterparts. That Ken Reeves, the former NBA player turned high school basketball coach portrayed by Howard, has to comply and work with Principal Jim Reeves (played by Ed Bernard) — and, later, Principal Sybil Buchanan (Joan Pringle) — was a power structure not seen on TV in the ’70s.

BY THE NUMBERS

$102,800,000 — Maximum price of construction costs to be borne by the city of Minneapolis as part of the projected $129 million renovation of Target Center, scheduled to begin in May with a targeted completion date in the fall of 2017. The substantial remodeling will include a new main lobby of the building (including a five-story glass wall), enhanced club and dining options and a new scoreboard that will be installed this summer.

cheap-nba-swingman-jerseys

10,684 — Announced attendance at Pepsi Center for last Wednesday’s game between the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers, though substantially fewer people actually showed up after a March blizzard brought more than 19 inches of snow to the Denver area. The weather was so bad referee Rodney Mott couldn’t get in, leaving officials Derek Richardson and Sean Corbin to ref the game. At least those who braved the conditions and came out got to see this at the end.

Mudiay’s Game Winner

With four seconds to go in regulation, Emmanuel Mudiay connects on a game-winning half-court prayer to seal the win for Denver over Philadelphia.

38 — Regular season victories for the NBA D-League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Heat’s affiliate, tying the D-League record for wins in a single season. With one win in either of its last two games, Sioux Falls, currently 38-10, will break the record of 38-12 set in the 2011-12 season by the L.A. D-Fenders. The Skyforce plays at home Tuesday against Iowa.

Q&A: DWIGHT HOWARD

 

Joy has been replaced by job.

That one-letter switch is pithy, to be sure, but nonetheless an accurate representation of the change in Dwight Howard’s demeanor these days. Long gone — perhaps, simply, now withheld from public view — is the goofy, gangly kid who did a devastating impression of his then-coach, Stan Van Gundy, and reveled in the attention that came with being the game’s best big man.

He wowed with his cape-clad dunks in the 2008 Dunk Contest, having loved the “Superman” moniker he gave himself. He has since been injured and blamed and shunned, the target of constant prodding from another great center who started his NBA career in Orlando, Shaquille O’Neal. He blew up the Magic when he grew tired of Van Gundy’s demanding style, and even after Orlando fired SVG, Howard pushed to be moved — first to the Lakers, where he spent a miserable year with Kobe Bryant, and then to Houston as a free agent, where the idea was that Howard would grow old playing next to James Harden.

Howard Muscles Into Dunk

Dwight Howard uses his strength to power into the lane for a two-handed dunk over his defender.

But that decision has seemingly curdled as well.

The same team that got to the Western Conference finals less than a year ago has fallen apart, now fighting just to get into the playoffs. Houston fired coach Kevin McHale after 11 games, but the Rockets are no better without him, and the subpar season has led to friction and speculation — friction between Howard and the organization, which explored trade options for him before the deadline in February, and speculation that Howard will bolt this summer in free agency, having had his fill of watching Harden’s dominance of the ball (he told USA Today’s Sam Amick in an extended interview last week that he has “no hate in his heart” for Harden).

At 30, Howard is still averaging a double-double this season, but his recurring back problems look to have slowed his offensive game significantly. His search for his lost joy continues.

Me: From the 30,000-foot view of someone who hasn’t been with your team all season: why are you here, scrambling just to make the playoffs, after having such a great season last year?

Dwight Howard: I don’t think we’ve played our best basketball all season long. We’ve had our highs and our lows, and we haven’t been as consistent as we need to. And that’s why we’re in the position we’re in.

Howard Rejects The Shot

Dwight Howard goes up and punishes the shot attempt by Jerami Grant.

Me: The numbers in March have been better defensively. What has changed or improved?

DH: Well, I just think our communication is one thing. And the trust, especially on the defensive end. You have to be able to trust your teammates. Because sometimes you may be reluctant to go if you don’t think your teammate is going to be behind you. It’s just small things that we have to fix, and I think we’ve done a better job of that.

Me: You said something in the USA Today interview that was interesting about shots. When you get a lot of shots, you have put up numbers this season.

DH: Well, I didn’t actually say that; it was Sam (Amick). I don’t really pay attention to that. I just know that I have to do whatever it takes for my team to win. I think James has done a good job of scoring, you bring in Michael Beasley, who’s done a good job of scoring. I have to really focus on helping our team defense. All of us have to do a better job on defense, and the offense will be easier. But we have to focus in on the defensive side of things: how can we help each other? Because there’s going to be mental breakdowns, there’s going to be times when people get beat on backdoors and guards get beat coming down the lane. And we have to be the protectors. I think we’ve gotten a lot better at it. And I think by the time the playoffs come around, we’ll have everything down pat.

Me: What is most encouraging about the way you’re playing, and what concerns you the most?

Do all of the things that can show our value on the floor. Just play hard and everything else will come from that.

– Rockets’ Dwight Howard on big men in today’s NBA

DH: Well, I think our defense has been pretty good. Our communication has been a lot better. Just like with any relationship, the biggest thing is communication and trust. It may take a while, but I think our communication and trust has gotten a lot better. The thing that I think can concern our team is just being consistent. We haven’t been able to be consistent all year, and I think the more consistent we become as a team, the better we’ll be, and you’ll see more wins than losses.

Me: How surprising is that? This is basically the same team from last year that went on that run.

Howard Sends It Back

Dwight Howard goes up for the massive rejection on Rudy Gobert.

DH: It is. But this is a totally different season, and I think teams are playing us a little differently than they did last season. And they’re really attacking us. We have to understand that. We have to know that every team watched us play and make that run to get to the Western Conference finals. They’re going to come out and try to destroy us, and we have to be ready for that.

Me: Let me amend what I said before: you’re right. You didn’t talk about shots. But you did say that because of the way the game is played today, big men don’t seem to be as valued as in years past.

DH: I think if you watch a team like Golden State, they shoot more threes than just doing postups and stuff like that. I think everybody is kind of taking that same style of play on offense, where they have one big on the floor. They call it ‘small ball’ now. It’s not just me, but I look at all the guys around the league — DeAndre [Jordan], you’ve got Andre Drummond, you’ve got those guys that are in the paint. It’s small ball now, so everybody’s forcing us out to play guys like Draymond Green, all those stretch fours. So it’s a different style of play. When I first came into the league, it wasn’t as much. Now, it’s like every team is doing it. It’s a pretty good strategy, but it’s just something the game has evolved into.

Me: Do you think it devalues big men?

I don’t take any of the stuff he says to heart. I understand that he has to do a job, and his job is to motivate me. And at the same time, he has to be one of my hardest critics, because he played the same position.

– Dwight Howard, on his relationship with Shaquille O’Neal

DH: I just think we’ve got to do more to show our value. So instead of focusing on the things, instead of letting things frustrate us, we’ve got to do all the little things — block shots, rebound, deflect balls, go for steals. Do all of the things that can show our value on the floor. Just play hard and everything else will come from that.

Me: But every guy wants to touch the ball, no matter what position they play.

DH: That is true. Like I said, our job has to be, let’s focus on the things that we can control. That’s our energy, our effort and rebounding. That’s something that nobody can take away from us.

Me: You have changed agents, and you’re now with Perry Rogers, Shaq’s agent.

DH: Yes, sir.

Me: Why?

DH: Well, I just felt like he has an opportunity to just focus on me. Any other agent, they have a lot of different clients and stuff like that. I felt like he was able to just focus on me. I think he’s a really good guy.

Me: Did you know him at all before?

DH: Not at all.

GameTime: Dwight Howard Discussion

Isiah Thomas and Brian Shaw discuss Dwight Howard’s play as of late.

Me: So Shaq introduced the two of you?

DH: He did, actually. So I had a great conversation with Shaq, not just about having an agent, but basketball and life and all that stuff. And he introduced me to Perry.

Just like with any relationship, the biggest thing is communication and trust.

– Dwight Howard

Me: Would you say your relationship with Shaq has improved over the last few years?

DH: I don’t think that we’ve had a bad relationship. We’ve sat down and talked about different things, and why he’s done what he’s done. He’s like, ‘I just want to push you.’ Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and Wilt [Chamberlain], he said, did it to him, all of the centers he watched growing up, they tried to find ways to motivate them. That’s what he feels like he has to do with me. I don’t take any of the stuff he says to heart. I understand that he has to do a job, and his job is to motivate me. And at the same time, he has to be one of my hardest critics, because he played the same position. I’m never going to be upset about that. I don’t think a fan would really understand, because they’re just watching. But I totally understand.

Me: The stickum stuff. I know you said you used that for years, right?

DH: Yes, sir.

Me: So what do you do now?

Howard Ball Drama

Dwight Howard rubbed his hands on the ball before a free throw. After some confusion, the ball was thrown out of the game.

DH: Nothing. I just go play. I never knew that it was anything illegal, because I’ve been using it. I’ve never hid it from anybody. It’s been in plain sight. From the first time I used it, I’ve used the powder. It basically does the same thing as the powder. I just didn’t want the powder all over my hands when I’m playing. So I didn’t know there was an issue. If there was, I apologize for people thinking that it was. But that’s not my focus. I just can’t get a deal with Elmer’s Glue now.

Me: There have been big guys like Kevin Willis that had small hands. Is your hand size at all an issue with why you used it?

DH: Well, I just know that putting a lot of lotion on and all that stuff, it affects how the basketball feels. So I used to use the powder. I’ve used the rosin stuff. I also used the stuff called Power Grip. That’s on the floor, all this stuff is at every arena, at every scorer’s table. Just try to find ways to not let the ball just slip. And it’s not like I’m playing football where I needed to catch touchdowns or anything like that. If anything, I probably have to stop using it, because it does mess up my free throws. I just think it was blown out of proportion.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

— Lakers guard Nick Young (@NickSwagyPYoung), Wednesday, 1:10 p.m., reacting to a Twitter critic who said “you ain’t never gonna see @NickSwagyPYoung pass the ball.”

THEY SAID IT

“There are some teams, it’s going to be hard for him. The Warriors, for example, where you have to be up and double-team some players and rotate and sometimes (have the big men) be on smaller players. There are some other teams that are maybe a little slower and he’s going to be huge.”

— Manu Ginobili, on the potential impact of 7-foot-3 rookie center Boban Marjanovic on the Spurs’ playoff chances this year.

“We give out name cards to keep track. ‘Hi, my name is …'”

— Grizzlies’ Coach Dave Joerger, on the incredible run of injuries his team has suffered this season and the resulting signing and playing of players that don’t know one another — or the coaches, for that matter.

“I got my rest last season and earlier this year. I’m good.”

— Kevin Durant, to local reporters in Oklahoma City, on whether he needed to sit out a game or two down the stretch of the regular season in order to be fresh for the playoffs.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

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