Smith, Olynyk suspended; Perkins fined

The other shoe dropped, as expected, and now the Cavaliers will open the Eastern Conference semifinals without two of their starters.

The NBA suspended guard J.R. Smith for two games without pay for swinging his arm and clocking the Celtics Jae Crowder in the head during the third quarter on Sunday.

The Cavs had announced earlier that forward Kevin Love would miss the entire series after suffering a dislocated shoulder in the first quarter of the game.

The league office said that Kelly Olynyk caused Love’s injury when the two became entangled by yanking his arm down and has been suspended without pay for one game. Olynyk will serve his suspension in the first game of the 2015-16 season for which he is eligible and physically able to play.

In addition, Cavs center Kendrick Perkins had a second-quarter Flagrant 1 Foul upgraded to a Flagrant 2 Foul and was fined $15,000.

Smith took to Instagram to address the situation:

Love out for conference semifinals


VIDEO: Did Love’s injury come on a dirty play?

It is official.

The Cavaliers will be without forward Kevin Love for the next round of the playoffs, definitely missing what everyone expects could be a contentious showdown against the Bulls.

Love was injured in a run-in with Boston’s Kelly Olynyk.

The team made the announcement in a release:

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love sustained a left shoulder dislocation during the first quarter of yesterday’s game in Boston vs. the Celtics. His shoulder was assessed, reduced in the locker room, immobilized, and he did not return to the game. X-rays and an MRI have been performed, as well as further evaluation at the Cleveland Clinic Sports Heath today by team physician Dr. Richard D. Parker and Dr. Mark Schickendantz. Evaluation and imaging have defended the extent of the injury: an acute anterior inferior glenohumeral dislocation with the corresponding ligament/labrum tearing and humeral head bone bruising. Currently, Love is undergoing training room treatments while addition opinions are being obtained and treatment options are being explored. Love will be unavailable for the Cavaliers upcoming Conference Semifinal playoff series and an update regarding his status beyond that will be determined over the next several days.

After the Cavs closed out their 4-0 sweep of the Celtics on Sunday, Love said he believed Olynyk’s play was “bush league” and intentional, which Olynyk denied. The referees gave him only a common foul.

In a Q & A with the Boston Globe, Olynyk offered his reply:

“I’d probably get killed if I went to Cleveland right now. I don’t think if someone gave me their arm and I was running forward like that and locked up, I don’t think I could dislocate someone’s arm if I tried. I think it’s a real tough thing to do.

“Like I said before, it’s kind of ridiculous to say you intentionally meant to. I’d never intentionally hurt someone, him or anybody else for that matter. I don’t think anybody goes out trying to hurt anyone. I think it’s just real unfortunate. If you get tangled up and he doesn’t dislocate his shoulder, there’s nothing dirty ever said or anything. It’s just a foul. So I just really hope he can get back as soon as possible and help that team keep making a push.”

Assuming that Chicago, currently up 3-1 on Milwaukee going into Monday night’s Game 5, eventually closes out the series, Love’s absence would leave a void in the next round. With the strong presence of big men to pack the lane, Love’s ability to shoot from 3-point range and draw defenders to the perimeter is a valuable part of the game plan. Love’s replacement Tristan Thompson operates close to the basket.

The Cavs could also be missing shooting guard J.R. Smith, who was slapped with a flagrant 2 foul and ejected for hitting Boston’s Jae Crowder in the head in the third quarter. It is expected that Smith will be suspended for at least one game.

Conley’s return fate waits 48 hours

With political scandals, they say, it’s not the act, it’s the cover-up. With sports injuries, it’s not the surgery, it’s the recovery. And that’s what Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley faces now.

Conley, who had successful facial surgery Monday in Memphis after being inadvertently elbowed by Portland’s C.J. McCollum Saturday in Game 3 of the Grizzlies-Trail Blazers first-round series, now must wait 48 hours for swelling to subside. Only then, reported Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, will Conley and his team be able to assess his prospects for a possible return in these playoffs.

Conley already was scratched from Game 4 in Portland Monday, with the Grizzlies ahead 3-0 in the best-of-seven series. If it continues, Game 5 is scheduled for Wednesday in Memphis, Game 6 Friday in Portland and a possible Game 7 Sunday back in Memphis.

Here is the essence of Wojnarowski’s report, citing league sources:

There are scenarios in which Conley could return in a possible Western Conference semifinal series against the Golden State Warriors, league sources said, but that’s uncertain until the healing process begins, the pain lessens and Conley can be fitted for a mask.

Twitter also provided bits of Conley-related info:

Stepping into the void again for Conley, particularly if backup Beno Udrih continues to be limited with an ankle sprain, could be second-year man Nick Calathes, who finished strong for the Grizzlies in Game 3.

Turnovers give Bucks hope in Game 5


VIDEO: Bulls-Bucks Game 5 preview

CHICAGO – Given the errant manner in which the Chicago Bulls have been throwing the basketball around in their first-round playoff series against Milwaukee, you almost expect to glance at the roster and see: Jay Cutler, point guard.

A city whose sports fans are all too familiar with the NFL Chicago Bears quarterback’s penchant for interceptions and turnovers is braced for more of the same when the Bulls, up 3-1 against the Bucks, try to close out in Game 5 Monday night at United Center.

Through four games, the Bulls have turned over the ball 80 times. That includes the 28 forced and unforced miscues against the Bucks Saturday in Game 4, right up to Chicago’s last possession when Derrick Rose lost the ball to Khris Middleton digging down in a triple-team.

The Bucks had 20 steals Saturday, only the second team in the past 30 years to achieve that in a playoff game (Philadelphia did it against Orlando one night in May 1999). And they had 32 in the first three games.

That’s how Chicago has managed to pull off this unlikely statistical tandem: No. 1 so far in the postseason in team assist percentage (73.2 percent of the Bulls’ field goals have come from assists), No. 16 in assist/turnover ratio (1.30).

Or to frame what’s going on another way, Chicago has outscored Milwaukee in the series so far by 26 points (397-371). But it has been outscored by 33 in points off turnovers (96-63).

Approximately one-quarter (25.8 percent) of the Bucks’ offense has been aided and abetted by the Bulls losing the basketball; the Bulls have only been so gifted on 15.9 percent of their points.

Since Chicago wasn’t this butterfingered during the regular season – an assist/turnover ratio of 1.56 and 14.0 turnovers per game – much of the credit belongs to Milwaukee. The Bucks led the NBA in steals per game (9.6) and opponents’ turnovers (17.4), and they have dialed up their intensity the past 10 days.

“It’s what we’re built on, our defense,” coach Jason Kidd said between Games 4 and 5. “Did we do anything different? No. We were just playing hard and putting ourselves in position to win a game. The last two games we did that. … I wouldn’t say we’re getting a lot of easy points, but we’re getting some points off turnovers, which we need.”

Rose had eight turnovers Saturday, Pau Gasol had five, Jimmy Butler four and Nikola Mirotic three. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said the Bulls have put in sufficient time on the basics, but haven’t done well executing them.

“We talk about fundamentals,” Thibodeau said. “Owning your space, passing with two hands, catching with two hands, tucking the ball, pivoting. And trust the pass. When you look at how they occur, it’s usually too much dancing or one-on-one or risky passes. Hit the first open man. Keep the ball moving. When we do that, we get great shots.”

Milwaukee’s tenacious defense has been a constant in their first season under Kidd and this coaching staff. It’s the less glamorous end of the floor and it doesn’t move the net, but it sure has moved the needle through four games.

“They’re swarming,” Gasol said after Game 4. “They’re doing a good job of putting pressure on us. We’ve got to do a much better job of taking care of the ball, individually and collectively. Twenty-eight turnovers are 28 we gave away. In a two-point game, that’s a big difference.”

 

Morning Shootaround — April 27



VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Pelicans plan to sign Davis to the max | Austin Rivers saves Clippers season | Buss says Lakers will celebrate Kobe next season | Trail Blazers vow to show heart, avoid sweep

No. 1: Report: Pelicans plan to sign Davis to the max — The New Orleans Pelicans have a summer to-do-list that starts and ends with taking care of Anthony Davis. The Pelicans’ immediate future rests on making sure Davis is a part of the organization for years to come and that means signing him to a max deal. Marc Stein of ESPN.com has more:

League sources say that the Pels will be as aggressive as possible on July 1 in presenting Davis with a five-year maximum contract that makes him New Orleans’ designated player.

Given that the 22-year-old was voted to start in February’s All-Star Game and will likely earn All-NBA first-team status when voting results are announced in coming days, Davis would be in line to start his max deal at 30 percent of the league’s salary cap as opposed to a mere 25 percent as long as he earns just one of those same honors next season — or if he is named the 2015-16 MVP.

Based on the league’s most recent cap projections, Davis will thus be presented with a five-year pact that will eventually top $30 million annually and could exceed $140 million in total value in a deal that kicks in beginning in 2016-17 and run through his 28th birthday.

Can he really turn down those sort of riches and that level of security in the name of flexibility?

Would he turn that down when he’s clearly comfortable in New Orleans and, by all accounts, highly engaged as the young leader of his team?

Hard to see Davis resisting such lucrative insulation, though he certainly does have the option of signing a shorter extension to keep his free-agent future more open.

***

No. 2: Austin Rivers saves Clippers season — He was supposed to be a bit player in this series, a footnote at best. But make no mistake, with their season on the brink in Game 4 in San Antonio, Austin Rivers stepped up and helped save the Los Angeles Clippers. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports explains how Austin Rivers brought tears to his father’s eyes:

When Doc Rivers walked into the locker room, the scene stopped him. Chris Paul called on the Clippers to congratulate the young guard responsible for saving the season and present him the game ball. Everyone clapped. Everyone let out a long, loud cheer for Austin Rivers.

“For a moment, for a half second maybe, I became a dad in there,” Doc Rivers told Yahoo Sports later on Sunday at the AT&T Center. The tears welled in his eyes, but he quickly wiped them away and stiffened in the concrete corridor.

To trade for his son, Rivers had to make a case on the move’s merits to a dubious basketball community. He’s had to live with the criticism. They’ve had to live with it together. They had Sunday together, too.

Austin Rivers had his finest moment in the NBA on Sunday, scoring 16 points, delivering defense, deflections and a 114-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs to bring this best-of-seven series 2-2 back to Staples Center. He made deft drives to the basket, fearless finishes to stun the Spurs.

For nine years, Doc Rivers coached and lived in Boston. For most of that time, his wife and children stayed in Orlando. Austin completed middle school and high school, spent a year at Duke and moved onto the NBA. Father and son were separated a long time, often coming and going in moments Doc had flown down and stolen an off-night for a high school game or an ACC game on Tobacco Road.

“Listen, we haven’t been together a lot,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “In a lot of ways, I am his coach.”

More coach than father, he’s trying to say. It’s an honest admission, and it comes tinged with a touch of sadness. Nevertheless, Austin Rivers has had to find his own way with these Clippers, earn his own respect. This was a beginning on Sunday, nothing more, nothing less.

***

No. 3: Buss says Lakers will celebrate Kobe next season — It’s all about Kobe Bryant next season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Even with a monster free agent summer on tap, the Lakers’ focus will be on Kobe. Lakers boss Jeanie Buss insists the 2015-16 season will be a celebration of one of the franchise’s and NBA’s all-time greats and his 20 years with the franchise. Sean Highkin of ProBasketballTalk.com has the details:

It’s been more or less known without anybody outright saying it for a while that next year will be Kobe Bryant‘s final year. His contract is up in 2016, which will put his career at 20 seasons, all with the Lakers, and the last three have ended with injuries.

Lakers president Jeanie Buss seems to know the end of the Kobe era is coming, if you go by her comments on a Sunday morning Bleacher Report radio interview:

Bryant has said that he doesn’t want a Derek Jeter-style farewell tour when he hangs it up, but it seems pretty obvious that it’s coming. And for the impact he’s had on the NBA and the sport worldwide, he deserves to take a victory lap regardless of what the Lakers do next season.

***

No. 4: Trail Blazers vow to show heart, avoid sweep — The Portland Trail Blazers insist they will not go away quietly. They will not be swept out of these playoffs without a fight. Their season is on the line tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies and they vow to fight until the very end. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian explains:

A little more than nine weeks ago, the Trail Blazers‘ practice court was brimming with confidence and gusto.

They had just made a splash at the NBA trade deadline, acquiring Arron Afflalo to strengthen their bench and add depth for what figured to be a long and successful playoff run. Pundits universally lauded the move. San Antonio Spurs Gregg Popovich hailed it as a “great addition.” The Blazers boldly pronounced they were poised to contend for an NBA Championship.

Oh how things have changed.

On Sunday afternoon, that confidence and gusto had been replaced with disappointment and dejection. The Memphis Grizzlies have pummeled the Blazers in their best-of-seven Western Conference playoffs series, using muscle, moxie and better talent to build a 3-0 lead. No team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.

And that history hovered over the Blazers like a thick fog Sunday at the practice facility in Tualatin, where they gathered for what could be their final practice of the season. No one said the season was done. Everyone promised to show heart and fight and claw until the final buzzer sounds at the end of Game 4, which is scheduled for 7:30 Monday night at the Moda Center.

But there was no escaping the daunting challenging in front of them. And there was no masking the inevitable gloom that comes with the reality the season is all but over.

“Right now, we’re at the point where we have to just have some heart and have some pride,” Damian Lillard said.

The Blazers spouted off the usual array of clichés, promising to take the series “one game at a time” and “only think about tomorrow’s game.” But history is impossible to ignore. And when the Cleveland Cavaliers swept the Boston Celtics on Sunday, they became the 112th team in 112 chances to win a series after building a 3-0 lead.

“You can’t think about it,” LaMarcus Aldridge said. “You just have to go game-by-game. If you try to think about, ‘Oh, we’re down 0-3 and let’s try to win the series,’ I think that’s when you think about the history. But if you just go game-by-game, just focus on getting Game 4, then anything’s possible.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Boston’s summer pursuit of Kevin Love will no doubt be complicated after the “bush league” play from Kelly Olynyk … Knocked down and out, gutsy Jae Crowder embodied toughness of Celtics this season … The Hawks are still a bit salty after their poor shooting effort in a Game 3 loss to the Brooklyn NetsSteals could help the Bucks steal another playoff win if the Chicago Bulls aren’t more careful with the ball … Kevin Love‘s absence in Cleveland with that shoulder dislocation will depend on his personal injury history

 

Grizzlies lose Conley for at least Game 4


Video: Grizzlies’ Conley will miss Game 4

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Grizzlies will be without Mike Conley for at least one game and possibly longer after the starting point guard returned to Memphis and will undergo surgery Monday to repair multiple fractures in his facial bones, according to TNT’s Lewis Johnson.

There was no immediate prognosis on how long he could be out, the team said, only that he will be missing as the Grizzlies try to close out the Trail Blazers in Game 4 of the first round Monday night at Moda Center.

Beno Udrih, who did not play Saturday because of a sprained right ankle, said after practice Sunday he will play, at least providing additional depth at the position after the loss of Conley, one of the Memphis emotional leaders as well as an integral player on the court.

Asked about his level of concern heading into Game 4, Coach Dave Joerger said, “Very. He does so much for us, with the ball, with the defense, setting us up. You guys that have been around us a long time, he shoulders a huge amount of responsibility for us. Everybody else has to just pick it up, keep getting better and has to be a little more focused in every single area. Every single possession’s going to matter. We’ve done a great job keeping the turnovers down. Now, what do we do from here?”

Joerger will choose between Nick Calathes and Udrih to start Game 4 against Damian Lillard, with rookie Russ Smith also a possibility to play.

Conley was injured with about 4:10 remaining in the third quarter of Game 3 when he leaned toward Portland’s C.J. McCollum for a steal as McCollum raised his left arm to shield the defender. McCollum’s elbow appeared to crash into Conley’s left cheek or eye.

“I’m not worried about Mike,” Udrih said. “Mike is a fighter. He’ll be back in no time.”

Said center Marc Gasol: “It’s going to be a different look, but I feel like our guys are ready. I feel like our guys have confidence they put in work to be ready for this situation. I have all my confidence. … I feel bad. Of course, I want Mike to be out there because I know how competitive he is. I know how much he wants to play. But, sadly, this is a part of the game. Things happen. It’s a physical game. I just wish that he can be out there because I know how much it means to him.”

Warriors’ rest will pay over long run


Video: Stephen Curry leads Golden State to a Game 4 win and the sweep

Steve Kerr had a thought about a well-deserved reward for surviving and sweeping his first NBA playoff series as a head coach.

“I’m going to Cabo, and I won’t see them until Saturday,” said the guy who has likely never been suntanned in his life. “I’ll just tell them to get some rest, come and work whenever they feel like it.”

Kerr waited a beat, then remembered he lives in the age of Twitter and missed context and added, “I’m just kidding, of course.”

However, as the first team to close out its first-round series and a schedule that will not have them opening the conference semifinals against the Grizzlies or Trail Blazers until Sunday at the earliest, the Warriors do face the question of how to spend their time off.

“It’s nice to get a couple of days and get some rest,” said center Andrew Bogut. “Guys are banged up, so it’s good to have a chance to regroup. On the flip side, it’s not always a great thing either because sometimes a team can come out a bit flat in Game 1.

“We want to get some rest. We have some smaller guys on our team who could do with some extra time off. You don’t want to play any extra games if you don’t have to.

“But you’ve got to be careful. You don’t want to lull yourself to sleep either. You want to keep doing what we’re doing. To get a day or two off now and then get back at it.”

Guard Klay Thompson came down emphatically on the side of the Warriors getting off their feet, at least for a few days.

“That’s why it’s important to close out a series as soon as you can, get the sweep, if possible,” Thompson said. “This time of year it starts to be a grind. So to have these days off … it will be important for us down the line, if we go as far as we want, to be able to have some energy stored up. It’s why you play all season to have the best record and get the advantages that come with it. You want to jump on teams right away, finish them off the first chance you get and the move on.”

Kerr, who could lie on the beach at Cabo and only turn various shades of lobster pink and orange, knows the Warriors will find the balance.

“I went through this as a player quite often where you have a long, extended break and there’s a mix of rest and reps and scrimmaging,” he said. “You gotta keep your conditioning, but you also want to get your rest as well. We’ll get it figured out.”

The key is to rest whenever you can, because the long march to a championship is never a day at the beach.

Morning shootaround — April 26



VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Conley injury hex continues, Calathes steps up | No nonsense as Warriors sweep | Bucks graduate to winning | Sixers eyeing Russell in draft?

No. 1: Conley injury hex continues, Calathes steps up — Just when it appeared that Memphis point guard Mike Conley was getting healthier, he gets a whole lot more hurt. Conley had to leave Game 3 between the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers in Portland Saturday after being hit in the face (between the cheekbone and the eye) by an elbow from Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. He was taken to a local medical facility, and though he Tweeted out an encouraging prognosis later, his status for Game 4 and beyond remains uncertain (NBA concussion protocols might mandate a layoff).

With backup point Beno Udrih already out with a sprained ankle, it fell to Grizzlies deep reserve Nick Calathes to finish out Game 3 and keep Memphis in position to sweep. Mike Tokito of The Oregonian reported on Calathes’ stepping into the void:

All Calathes did was to contribute 13 points, six rebounds and four assists while committing no turnovers in 27 minutes of the Grizzlies 115-109 win that extended their series lead to 3-0.

“I thought Nick Calathes came off and gave us a big boost tonight,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.

It wasn’t just a one-time feel-good story in the manner of, say, Troy Daniels of Houston in last year’s Blazers playoffs. Calathes could become a key to Memphis wrapping up the series.

Conley left the game with 4:03 left in the third quarter, and Memphis leading 74-64. Calathes played the rest of the game and provided a much-needed steadying influence.
A big key was that he did not hesitate to shoot when Portland left him unguarded, and he made two key three-pointers.

“I’m a shooter, I’m very confident in my shot,” he said. “If they’re going to play off me, I’m going to shoot the ball. And tonight I made them, and Monday I’ll do the same. I’ve been working on my shot with the coaches, and I’m ready.”

The 6-foot-6 Calathes is in his second NBA season and playing in the playoffs for the first time, but he’s no stranger to big games. Calathes was a college standout in two seasons at Florida, then played overseas, in Greece (born in the U.S., he holds dual citizenships because both his parents are Greeks) and Russia. In 2011, he helped Panathinaikos win the EuroLeague championship, and has played in all kinds of high-level international tournaments.

“He’s played in a lot of big games, you can tell – international competitions that he’s played in,” Joerger said. “He’s a very, very solid NBA point guard.”

Calathes would have made his NBA playoff debut last season, except for a bizarre circumstance: He incurred a 20-game NBA suspension for testing positive for Tamoxifen, which is on the league’s banned substance list. The drug is not considered to be performance-enhancing, but rather, a masking agent. Calathes said he took it in an over-the-counter supplement, but whatever the case, he was not able to play in the playoffs, making Saturday’s performance even sweeter.

“It was real nice,” he said. “What happened last year will happen, but for me to be here with these guys, to be out there on the grind and go to battle with them, it’s a great feeling.”

***

No. 2: No nonsense as Warriors sweep — When a team wins 67 games, it doesn’t deal with much adversity over the course of the long NBA season. That means the opportunities to reach down in tough times are limited, leaving questions about what might happen if some team tightens the screw on them in the postseason. That’s why Golden State coach Steve Kerr seemed more satisfied by how the Warriors handled their two road games against New Orleans in sweeping through the first round, rather than the games in Oakland that so often wind up as feel-good affairs. Our own Fran Blinebury was at the Smoothie King Center Saturday to chronicle Golden State’s seriousness of purpose:

These were the Warriors at their hammer-on-the-anvil, bludgeoning best.

The threesome of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and [Draymond] Green combined for 86 points, 21 rebounds and 18 assists while shooting 30 of 53 (.567) from the field and 13 of 21 (.619) on 3-pointers.

The Warriors defense was back to being its smothering, stifling best. Consider this stat: the Pelicans had zero fast break points.

Green and Curry couldn’t have done much more damage setting the tone in the first quarter if they were swinging clubs, filling up the bucket and not letting the Pelicans fill their heads with any more cute notions of pulling off the upset.

And when New Orleans put together a couple of runs to get what was a 24-point lead down to seven on a couple occasions late, Green took a feed from Curry for a tourniquet of a layup and then Thompson buried one more three.

“I’d say we reacted pretty well at the end of Game 3 being down,” Kerr said. “But that was a little different because it was desperation and we just had to let it rip.

“Tonight was more indicative of the feeling of being the favorite. You play a great game. You’re in control and all of a sudden you’re not…Yeah, it was good composure.”

***

No. 3: Bucks graduate to winning — Everyone knew the Milwaukee Bucks, winners of just 15 games in 2013-14, had much to learn about playoff basketball. Everyone figured the Bucks’ young players, such as forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and guard Michael Carter-Williams, would take lumps from the Chicago Bulls in the teams’ first-round series and come back in October better for it. But a group of salty veterans, knocked around in their NBA travels, wanted more than moral victories and, as our Steve Aschburner noted, they got it in a buzzer-beating Game 4 victory over the rival Bulls:

[Bucks coach Jason] Kidd used a small lineup the entire fourth quarter, with forward Khris Middleton accompanied by four bench guys: Jared Dudley, Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo and John Henson. Kidd liked their ball movement offensively, he liked their aggressiveness and mobility defensively. And frankly, he had to like the way they stiffened and executed and demonstrated for some of their fresher teammates who might have been halfway into their Hefty bags [to clean out their lockers at series end].

“This was a mental game,” Dudley said. “A lot of people, you start shipping your cars, planning your vacations. You’re down 3-0… But we’re still young. People don’t even know what to think. Today I think the veterans stepped up and said, ‘Hey, this is how you have to do it.’ “

Milwaukee’s bench — those four guys — scored 47 points of their team’s 90 points, had 13 of their 34 rebounds, passed for 16 of the Bucks’ 25 assists, accounted for seven of their nine 3-pointers, had five of six blocks and seven of the 20 steals.

The bench, for the second straight game, opened up a fat lead for Milwaukee, only to see it squandered by starters. Dudley was running hot at halftime but recalled thinking: “This is perfect to see where we’re at. If we can adjust and make changes [great] — if not, we’ll be home. It’s up to us.”

Dudley also was the Bucks inbound passer on the final buzzer-beating play. After Middleton dug the ball loose from Derrick Rose as the Bulls guard set up for what seemingly would be the last shot of regulation, Kidd called a timeout. That left 1.3 seconds, with the ball advanced, for Milwaukee to run what their coach drew up.

Dudley — whose mother never let him play tackle football, so forget the quarterback references — spotted Bayless behind Rose near the baseline. “I was kind of shocked that Bay’d be behind him,” said the 29-year-old, whose weekend-warrior look obviously is deceiving. “You know what, I made the good pass but Bayless made the play and he scored.”

Bayless’ reverse layup, with Rose going from startled to dejected in an instant, did the carpe diem thing for the Bucks while earning them a little more per-diem to spend in Chicago’s River North night spots.

“A lot of us have been in, I’m not going to say ‘unfavorable’ but we’ve been around,” Bayless said. “We’ve been around the league. O.J. has been on teams, I’ve been on teams, ‘Duds’ has been on teams and John … he’s had ups and downs. These guys and their will to keep fighting every night throughout the 82-game season and now in the playoffs — and try to win — it’s something I’m really happy to be a part of.”

***

No. 4: Sixers eyeing Russell in draft? — The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted an unnamed league executive in its report that the Sixers might be targeting Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell with their lottery pick, a wing player to complement the premium big-man prospects they’ve taken in the past two talent roundups. The Sixers are guaranteed no worse than the No. 6 selection and are hoping to do better than that in the May 19 draft lottery to move into position to pick Russell. Here’s more from the Philly news outlet:

“He’s the guy they want,” the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Saturday. “That’s the word around the league. You know the Sixers. They won’t come out and say it, but he’s the guy they want.”

The executive called former Kentucky center/power forward Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell the top two draft prospects, ahead of point guard Emmanuel Mudiay and Duke center Jahlil Okafor. Mudiay played this season for the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.

“Russell has star quality,” he said of the 6-foot-5, 180-pounder.

Russell averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists while shooting 41.1 percent on three-pointers last season en route to being named a first-team all-American and Big Ten freshman of the year.

Five Sixers executives, including general manager Sam Hinkie, were on hand when the Louisville native collected 23 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds in a 79-60 victory at Rutgers in February.

He made 8 of 13 shots and had one steal and two turnovers in 35 minutes while handling the ball most of the game. A source said the Sixers were impressed by his performance.

It’s not surprising that they would want Russell.

A league scout and the executive say he is more NBA-ready than Mudiay, a 6-6, 205-pounder who struggles shooting from the outside. Mudiay would be a gamble, considering that he played only 12 games in China because of an ankle injury. He averaged 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.6 steals in what some have called a subpar league.

Unless the Sixers are secretly unhappy with Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid, they don’t need to acquire a center for a third straight draft. In addition, they desperately need a lead guard who can shoot from outside, and Russell can definitely do that.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After his Blazers got pushed to the brink of elimination, Portland owner Paul Allen took a long, lonely walk Saturday night, as witnessed by The Oregonian‘s Jason Quick. … LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t feel like the next big thing in Portland during his first year there, no matter how Zach Randolph tells the story now. …Milwaukee and Brooklyn have avoided sweeps, now it’s Dallas’ turn. If it can do something to slow a Rockets attack that has put up 359 points in three games. … How ’bout some Kevin Love free-agent speculation from the city where the Cavaliers are playing? … First it was Roy Hibbert and the Pacers. Now the Toronto Raptors have a style question to answer, with big man Jonas Valanciunas‘ fit to be determined. …

 

Bulls count Mirotic in for Game 4

MILWAUKEE – From the OK-so-he’s-not-Willis-Reed-but… department, Chicago reserve forward Nikola Mirotic was a surprise addition to the Bulls’ active roster for Game 4 Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Mirotic, a 6-foot-10 rookie from Montenegro, had missed Game 3 Thursday with a bruised left knee and quadriceps strain after a skirmish while on the floor with Milwaukee’s Zaza Pachulia in Game 2 on Monday night. On Friday, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Mirotic still had done no running since the injury. But the 24-year-old got over to Bradley Center later in the day and showed marked improvement in his mobility.

“Actually he felt a lot better [Friday] too,” Thibodeau said before Game 4. “If he wasn’t good enough, he wouldn’t be playing. He was able to play 1-on-1 and stuff yesterday.”

Mirotic worked through some warm-up/rehab drills before the game and appeared to move fine. He was one of two Bulls players to appear in all 82 games in the regular season. His averages through the series’ first two games against the Bucks – 6.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in about 18 minutes – were a drop-off from the numbers he posted after March 1 (17.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg).

With the Bulls up 3-0 in the series, some observers assumed Mirotic might be held out longer to recuperate for a likely role in the conference semifinals. Being active didn’t guarantee he would play in Game 4, though Thibodeau said he’d have no trouble finding minutes for the valuable “stretch 4″ forward.

“We’ll go back to our old rotation,” the Bulls coach said. “There’s enough for everybody.”

Conley still not close to full health

PORTLAND — The company line is that Mike Conley is getting better, that the minutes increase in his return to the Grizzlies’ lineup is an indication he is nearing 100 percent.

“I’m feeling better,” he said.

Conley couldn’t pull it off. He made it through one sentence before he started to smile.

“I think each game has gotten a little bit better,” Conley added.

He straight out laughed.

Playing and contributing to the 2-0 Memphis lead over the Trail Blazers as the first round shifts to Moda Center tonight, yes. Convincing, no.

“You know, I’m telling myself I’m felling better,” Conley said. “I don’t know if I’ll play 30 minutes of 25 or 22. I just go out there and play as hard as I can for as long as I can.”

He is feeling better, and Conley has gone from missing the final four games of the regular season because of a sprained right foot to 24 and then 29 minutes the first two games against Portland. That is encouraging. But closing in on his 2014-15 average of 31.8 minutes per outing is not to be confused with nearly being back to normal.

He estimates he is is about 70 percent — and getting better.

“Yeah,” Conley said. “At least I’m telling myself that.”

Meanwhile, Tony Allen, the Grizzlies’ starting small forward, has gone from missing nine games with a strained left hamstring to 25 minutes in the postseason opener to 36 minutes in Game 2 on Wednesday in Memphis. The schedule has helped — the series so far has gone Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday, with the benefit of two days rest in between games. That will also benefit the Trail Blazers with the expected return of Arron Afflalo tonight and becomes especially important for the Grizz with Beno Udrih listed as questionable.

“A little treatment last night,” Allen said. “Treatment pretty much every day. I’m taking advantage of that. I’m pretty much a work in progress.”