Posts Tagged ‘Joakim Noah’

Love wisely takes control of own destiny

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters weigh in on the Kevin Love rumors

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Be mad at Kevin Love all you want. Slap the head off of that bobble-head if it makes you feel better.

But understand this: He’s doing the right thing, forcing his way out of a tough situation in Minnesota. Love has already let the Timberwolves know that he will test the market, meaning that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015.

And that means the Timberwolves need to ask themselves if it makes more sense to waste the next few months trying to change Love’s mind or to spend the next few weeks sorting out the best trade option and getting something rather than nothing for the face of their franchise.

Survey the list of superstar and even All-Star talents in recent seasons who have decided they wanted to work elsewhere, and almost to a man each and every one of them found a way out, no matter how ugly the fallout. Carmelo Anthony in Denver. Chris Paul in New Orleans. Dwight Howard in Orlando. Deron Williams in Utah (the Jazz jettisoned him before things got ugly). When a star wants a new destination in this day and age, dating back to LeBron James and his departure from Cleveland, it’s difficult to keep him in the fold.

The Los Angeles Lakers remain one of the only teams to stare down its franchise player, Kobe Bryant, and not buckle to a trade demand (real, admitted to and or imagined)/request for an exit in some shape, form or fashion. Keep in mind they were working with an armored truck worth of cash, a rich championship history and freedom to manipulate the situation in whatever way Bryant wanted as part of their fool-proof recruiting pitch.

Love is in a completely different place in his career. He’s yet to sniff the aroma of the playoffs after six seasons in the NBA. The fact that he’s had enough in Minnesota, where the Timberwolves have been unable to surround him with the supporting pieces necessary to reach the playoffs in the rugged Western Conference, should surprise no one.

But this isn’t about Love’s exit strategy or even what a downtrodden Timberwolves franchise is going to do in the event that they have to part ways with a bonafide superstar (owner Glen Taylor and front office boss Flip Saunders, it’s your move). This is about the fact that Love recognizes that it’s now or never if he wants to graduate from that short list of first-line stars who haven’t dipped their toes in the postseason waters.

Love is wise to take control of his own destiny and write the next chapter or two of his legacy on his own terms. Whichever route the Timberwolves decide to take, he’ll have plenty of suitors willing to wait out the process in an attempt to add him to their mix.

Even more intriguing for some of those interested parties — the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Lakers headline the long list — is whether Love is slated as the No. 1 or No. 2 option in the future. Whatever their designations, a Love-Steph Curry-Klay Thompson trio with the Warriors and new coach Steve Kerr would be pure fireworks. He could be an absolute game changer alongside Anthony in New York and certainly with former MVP Derrick Rose and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau. The possibilities are endless.

Still, for all of his well-deserved individual hype, there are some, a scant few NBA front office types, who repeatedly point out that Love’s spectacular numbers never did lift the Timberwolves to that next level.

Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio even questioned his leadership abilities in the wake of the news that Love wanted to explore his options elsewhere.

“Each situation is different, but this is a results league,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “And he’s never led a team to the postseason. Chris Bosh takes a beating from people, always has. But the one thing you couldn’t argue when he was in Toronto was that he could lead his team to the playoffs. I think Love is in a similar situation in that he could be the ideal No. 2 in the right place, the guy who serves as the linchpin in a championship situation. He’s that skilled and that talented. And he works his tail off. But he has to get to the playoffs for any of us to know for sure. And in this day and age of analytics, that one metric that still matters is whether or not you get there.”

It’s clear that making the playoffs, being a “winner,” is the one thing that matters to Love.

He wouldn’t have allowed himself to be placed in this current predicament, where his name will be run through the rumor mill relentlessly, if that wasn’t his No. 1 priority.


VIDEO: An all-too familiar sight: Kevin Love goes off but the Timberwolves lose

Morning Shootaround — May 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played May 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr could make decision soon | Rivers encourages Clippers employees | Ollie a coaching candidate?

No. 1: Kerr could make decision soon — TNT’s Steve Kerr met with Phil Jackson about the Knicks’ coaching job last weekend, and said afterward that “we’ve got a lot of things to discuss.” A week later, Kerr could be close to taking the job, as Marc Berman of the New York Post writes:

Steve Kerr likely is making his swan song for TNT on Saturday night when he announces Game 7 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series in Oklahoma City. According to an NBA source, Kerr likely will make his final decision on accepting the Knicks head-coaching job soon after the weekend.

As The Post reported, the Lakers’ coaching vacancy is a non-factor for Kerr, who is not a candidate. The Lakers are in store for a prolonged search after Mike D’Antoni resigned, and neither side has interest.

However, one thing that can derail Kerr’s getting hired by the Knicks is if the Warriors lose their first-round series to the Clippers on Saturday and coach Mark Jackson is let go. Kerr, whose family lives in San Diego, may listen if approached by the Warriors. Kerr is represented by former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

***

No. 2: Rivers encourages Clippers employees — The Los Angeles Clippers’ players and coaches aren’t the only ones who have had to deal with the distaste of working for Donald Sterling. Behind the scenes is the rest of the Clippers’ staff, those working in the office to support the team. Those folks have never had the benefit of a Doc Rivers pep talk … until Friday, when Rivers took some time out of his Game 7 preparation to help the staff deal with the fallout of Sterling’s comments and ban. Broderick Turner of the L.A. Times has the story:

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he had an emotional meeting Friday with Clippers employees who work in downtown Los Angeles to try to help them deal with the Donald Sterling scandal.

Rivers said that during his conversation with the employees, who work in ticketing, marketing, group sales, sponsorship, finance, human resources and fan relations, they were “sitting there crying.”

Rivers said he got a call for some of the Clippers’ department heads who asked him to speak with the employees.

Rivers said he quickly agreed to do so despite trying to prepare the team for Game 7 of its first-round Western Conference playoff series against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday at Staples Center.

***

No. 3: Ollie a coaching candidate? — Including the Knicks job, there are currently five coaching openings around the league. And there may be more after the first round of the playoffs are done. There are some guys who have already won in this league (Lionel Hollins, George Karl, Stan Van Gundy) that are available, but the success of guys like Jeff Hornacek, Steve Clifford and Jason Kidd will encourage executives to keep an open mind. And maybe they might be willing to reach into the college ranks, where 13-year NBA vet Kevin Ollie just won a championship in his second season at UConn. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo has an update on where things stand with Ollie, his alma mater and the NBA:

University of Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie has started discussions on a new contract with school officials, but hasn’t ruled out listening to NBA overtures, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Fresh off his masterful national championship coaching run this spring, Ollie is a consideration for the Los Angeles Lakers and is expected to move onto short lists as more NBA teams make coaching changes, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

So far, no NBA teams have reached out to make formal contact with Ollie, sources said.

Across the NBA, executives are enamored with Ollie as a tactician and leadership force. UConn officials are moving quickly to rework his contract and reward him for so quickly developing into an elite head coach.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Joakim Noah had arthroscopic surgery to clean out his left knee … The Magic extended the contracts of GM Rob Hennigan and coach Jacque Vaughn through the 2015-16 season … The Heat are trying to stay sharp as they await the winner of the Toronto-Brooklyn series … and the Wizards are doing the same as they wait for either the Pacers or Hawks.

ICYMI of The Night: Damian Lillard hit the first series-ending buzzer-beater since 1997:


VIDEO: Lillard Wins The Series

Morning Shootaround — April 30



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Parker iffy for Game 5 | Removing Sterling may not be easy | Strange times with Warriors’ coaching staff | Noah reveals he has knee injury

No. 1: Banged-up Parker iffy for Game 5 — Around February during the season, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich gave All-Star point guard Tony Parker significant time off to rest his myriad of injuries. That was done so that Parker would be healthy and ready to hold up for what San Antonio hoped would be a repeat run to The Finals. Parker, though, is suffering through a troublesome ankle injury and his status for tonight’s Game 5 against the Mavericks in San Antonio is unknown, writes Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News

Tony Parker is listed as day-to-day in advance of Game 5 after being diagnosed with a Grade 1 sprain of his left ankle, suffered in the first half of the Spurs’ 93-89 victory at Dallas on Monday.

“We’ll see how he is (Wednesday),” Popovich said.

The injury is not believed to have required an MRI or x-ray. Grade I sprains are the least severe among three classifications.

Parker finished with 10 points on 5-for-14 shooting in Game 4. He still played 14 minutes in the second half, returning late to hit an important jumper that gave the Spurs an 87-84 lead with 1:37 remaining. The Spurs’ victory knotted the series at 2-2 entering Wednesday’s game at the AT&T Center.

Parker had been uneven even before the injury, averaging just 3.3 in the second half of the first three games. He is averaging 15.5 points and 4.5 assists in the series.

(more…)

Butler keeps his head to keep Bulls alive

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dunleavy leads Bulls to Game 3 win over Wizards

WASHINGTON — Give Jimmy Butler credit for keeping his head.

No small feat when a guy the size of Nene is trying to rip it off.

Another day in the playoffs, another night of pushing, shoving, elbowing and jersey pulling.

All that had changed from the first two games was the location to the nation’s capital, where the Wizards and Bulls resumed the impersonation of Republicans and Democrats playing down and dirty.

Then the lid blew off the pot.

Nene had just scored on a breakaway layup when he turned to run back up the floor on defense and happened to reach out with his left arm and clip Butler with a chicken wing.

Butler responded with a one-handed shove in the side and then things got interesting.

The 6-foot-11 Nene leaned in first to put his forehead squarely against Butler. Then he reached up and clamped his right hand around the back of Butler’s neck. Then with his left hand, he tried to take Butler down.

Nene was ejected with 8:28 left in in a two-point game, which left the Wizards vulnerable, Butler inspired and the Bulls quite suddenly empowered.

“Just two people wanting to win the game competing and I guess he gave me one of those and I didn’t like it,” Butler said. “So it is what it is.”

What it was in the immediate aftermath was a chance for Butler to take a handoff from Joakim Noah, run around a screen and bury a critical 3-pointer.

“Whoooo!” said Noah. “Jimmy, that was a big 3.”

Maybe if this wrestling match goes the distance, it will just get lost in the all the muck. But for now, how Butler handled the whole affair and the way he scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter was exactly what the Bulls needed to get themselves going to close out a game.

“I knew I had to [stay composed]. I didn’t want to get ejected like he did or nothing like that. But I can’t back down from anybody. That’s not in me. “I didn’t think it was that serious, but obviously he thought it was. I was just saying, ‘Watch all that.’ It was uncalled for. I’m not mad at him for him. He’s competitive. I respect the guy.”

Nene wanted to put it all behind him.

“You can’t control when you play physical, things get hot,” he said. “It’s over. The whole team is thinking about Game 4 and stepping up for real in a big series.

“It’s over. You need to move [on]. That’s what I’m doing. Now we need to come here [and] play the right way in Game 4 and forget about what happened.”

But what happened could have been the spark to restore the confidence back in the Bulls, who had let fourth quarter leads slip away in both of the home losses to open the series and none of them were really surprised that emotions boiled over.

“I think it was gonna happen eventually,” said Bulls forward Taj Gibson. “How the battle is being played, every time down in the paint. I’m surprised it didn’t happen in the first two games. It’s playoff basketball. You got to be smart. You can’t put your hands on people.

“It gets chippy, but you gotta be smart. You can get ejected. You can get suspended for a game. You gotta keep your hands to yourself.”

There might be some cause for concern by the Wizards if the NBA office decides to take a further look at what happened. In these kinder and gentler times of the 21st century, a suspension of Nene is not something that can be entirely dismissed.

For the Bulls, what mattered is the first step back. They knew falling into a 3-0 hole would have sealed their fate.

“We got heart,” Gibson said. “We care. It doesn’t matter who believes in us. We believe in each other. We believe in what the locker room says. And the locker room says we have a chance. We’re going to fight to the last blow.”

But keep their heads like Jimmy Butler when it matters.

Bulls out of scoring options, out of gas?

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Taj Gibson talks to the media after the Bulls’ practice on Wednesday

A couple weeks ago, the Chicago Bulls were the team that no one in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket allegedly wanted to play.

In a matter of days, no one might have to.

Unless the Bulls find a way to generate offense late in games, unless they stop trying to beat Washington in three-and-a-half quarters while spotting the Wizards four, the grimiest, hardest-working team in basketball soon will be on extended vacation. For all its pluck, for all its spunk, Chicago is facing a hole as the series shifts to D.C. for Game 3 Friday every bit as big, historically, as losing an MVP (Derrick Rose) or trading away an All-Star (Luol Deng).

The Bulls overcame – maybe compensated for is more apt – the absences of Rose and Deng by shifting those guys’ responsibilities onto others and resolutely playing harder. But down 0-2 in this first-round series, they don’t really have any others left and they might be out of gears.

NBA past doesn’t bode well for the Bulls’ future, either. Only three teams in playoff history – the 1969 Lakers, ’94 Rockets and ’05 Mavericks – won a best-of-seven series after dropping the first two games at home. Houston finds itself in the same predicament against Portland at the moment, but never mind the company; the Bulls are coping with their own misery.

Their vaunted defense, with coach Tom Thibodeau barking orders and Joakim Noah as the newly minted Defensive Player of the Year, has been shredded for 101.5 points and the Wizards’ 48.1 field-goal percentage in two games. Despite opening double-digit leads in both, the Bulls have been outscored in the fourth quarter 51-34 while shooting 35.3 percent (12 of 34), and they missed seven of nine shots in Game 2’s overtime.

As far as seeking help from different sources, there have been no different sources. The bench is thin after Taj Gibson and D.J. Augustin, and Thibodeau has coached accordingly: Of the series’ 505 available minutes so far, more than 95 percent (481:33) have been heaped on just seven guys.

Even that is misleading: Jimmy Butler (96:46, including all 53 Tuesday) and Noah (85:36) each has played nearly as much as forwards Carlos Boozer (45:22) and Mike Dunleavy (54:42) combined. Thibodeau has stuck with the rotation that earned Chicago a 36-14 record in the 2014 portion of the regular season. That means Dunleavy has logged less than 10 minutes in the fourth quarters and OT in this series and Boozer has amassed zero.

Because Boozer and Dunleavy are primarily offensive players, not playing them when the points get scarce late in games has focused heat on Thibodeau. To a lot of Bulls fans, it’s like trying to ride out a headache without uncapping the aspirin bottle. But Thibodeau is committed to the late-game lineup that worked so well for so long. And, hey, he knows Boozer and Dunleavy primarily are offensive players too.

“You have to work your way out of things,” Thibodeau said, almost by rote. “We have a lot of guys who have played well in the fourth quarter all year. … We have to do it collectively. And that’s really what we’ve done. When we lost Derrick and we lost Luol, that’s the makeup of our team.

“You can’t get wrapped up in the first two games other than you want to learn from what happened. Get ready for the next one. Don’t look ahead. That’s the way we’ve approached it all season. We’re not changing now.”

Trouble is, Washington has risen to its rare postseason occasion. The Wizards have been feistier at both ends. Defensively, they’re pressuring the ball and almost daring the Bulls’ non-shooters to shoot.

Noah, Chicago’s “point center,” has been attacked when he attempts to handle the ball, ignored if he’s shooting outside the restricted zone and squeezed when he sets up 18 feet from the basket, Wasington’s Nene crowding Noah to limit his passing angles and vision. Nene’s offense has the DPOY sweating and maybe a little rattled, with Games 1 and 2 sandwiching the award ceremony in Chicago with Noah’s entire family in town.

Augustin, this year’s Rose surrogate, has been a scoring godsend, but when 6-foot-8 Trevor Ariza volunteered to guard the smallish point guard down the stretch in Game 2, Augustin was done. He stayed stuck on 25 points over the final 13 minutes.

Wizards coach Randy Wittman even has made the more apparent and successful adjustments so far – in transferring scoring load from frontcourt (Nene, Marcin Gortat) to backcourt (John Wall, Bradley Beal), in deploying veteran backup Andre Miller in key old-school moments – and been rewarded twice. That hits Thibodeau right where his strength is, in the lab, in resiliency.

Consider this role-reversal quote from Gibson on Wednesday.

“We watched the film, it came down to we were like a fingernail short every time. Guys were diving for the balls, scrambling around, and they just made some great plays, playoff-style basketball I guess,” the Bulls’ sixth man said.

“[They are] a hungry team. … They go up, we go up, but the way they start the games off, the way they finish them, especially on defense, getting loose balls, scramble plays, rugged-basketball kind of style, that’s kind of our style if you think about it.”

Actually, it was the Bulls’ style until Saturday. Unless they get back to that in Game 3 and whatever beyond they can eke out, their postseason will become past season in a hurry.

Noah turns intensity into DPOY landslide

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Joakim Noah named Defensive Player of the Year

LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. – If there’s one image this season that captures Joakim Noah officially as the NBA’s top defensive player and arguably as its most passionate and intense, it came in March. That’s when the Chicago Bulls center, switching off screens in a game against Miami at United Center, found himself squared up a couple of times against none other than LeBron James.

Noah, at 6-foot-11, did everything short of licking his chops. He bent low, locked James in a laser gaze and clapped his hands almost in the dangerous Heat star’s face.

There aren’t a lot of men his size who could make that look good. But Noah knows a thing or two about defensive stances when facing opponents big and small. He even teased a little about the one atop the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award, which he received Monday: Too flat-footed, a little unbalanced and obviously giving up some serious height.

Poking fun at the little bronze dude didn’t get in the way at all, though, of Noah’s appreciation of the honor, the first of the five Kia Performance Awards to be presented for NBA achievements in 2013-14.

Noah, 29, shared thoughts and stories with a ballroom of reporters and cameras, expressing gratitude to his family, all in attendance – his father, former tennis pro Yannick Noah; his mother Cecilia Rodhe, Miss Sweden 1978; and his siblings. He talked of the DPOY as a team award, giving shout-outs to his Bulls teammates for the adversity they’ve endured this season.

He dedicated the award to Tyrone Green, his basketball mentor and second-father figure during the years Noah grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. With his parents divorced, it was Green – a widely known figure in youth basketball in New York – who got credit and in time love from Noah for toughening up the gawky teenager of privilege he’d been. Green died unexpectedly last week at age 63, causing Noah to take a brief personal leave from the Bulls on the brink of their first-round series against Washington.

“This award goes to somebody who I’ll never forget, somebody who just passed and meant so much to me,” Noah said, acknowledging it still was hard to talk about his friend. “Somebody who believed in me. Mr. Green, I love you and I appreciate you, and I know you’re smiling down right now, really proud. This award goes to you.”


VIDEO: Joakim Noah thanks his teammates, family and former coaches

Noah also spoke of the bond forged between him and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, away from the bright lights and the fans’ eyes, in all its nasty after-hours glory.

“I remember one day,” Noah said, “Thibs was putting me through a real brutal workout. I said, ‘If we weren’t winning games, I would really, really hate you.’ He said, ‘Trust me, Jo. I would feel the same way about you.’ “

It’s a symbiotic relationship, though, of the NBA’s most revered defensive coach and his surrogate on the court, now the league’s acclaimed best defender. No wonder Thibodeau was beaming like he needed to be passing out cigars.

“You can’t have a great defense without having great defensive players,” Thibodeau said. “He has a very unique skill set. And he’s a hard guy to measure statistically. But when you look at his athleticism, his intelligence, his ability to communicate and guard every position on the floor, that gives you a lot of weapons. And he helps sell it to the team. To me, that’s huge.”

Noah received 100 first-place votes from the panel of 125 NBA writers and broadcasters who cast ballots and got 555 points of a maximum 625 for any player. Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and the L.A. Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan each got eight first-place votes and finished second (166 points) and third (121), respectively.

Chicago ranked second in the NBA with a defensive rating of 100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, second in defensive field-goal percentage (43.0) and first in points allowed per game, 91.8. Noah had a league-best defensive rating of 96, according to basketball-reference.com, while averaging 11.3 rebounds, 1.51 blocks and 1.24 steals.

Ironically, Noah earned the defensive award – he’s the first Bulls player to win it since Michael Jordan in 1988 – in a season in which his offensive game blossomed. With Derrick Rose suffering a second season-ending injury in November and leading scorer Luol Deng getting traded in January, the Bulls turned Noah as a “point center.” His passing ability, his court vision, his ball handling and the way he runs the floor reached new levels, and his awkward jump shot – dubbed “The Tornado” for its sideways rotation – has become more reliable by the day.

Still, it is Noah’s work at the other end that gives the Bulls their foundation and earned the DPOY. He protects the rim, sure, but his help defense is so schooled as to become instinctive, and he can switch onto smaller players as well as any big man since Kevin Garnett in his prime.

Some of the attributes Noah flexes defensively come from training he did as a boy alongside his father, the tennis great. “Subconsciously, I think it taught me a work ethic,” Noah said. “My father taught me how to jump rope, and I don’t think a lot of big guys are jumping rope.”

His years in New York with Green made him humble – he was a ball boy at the famous ABCD youth camp in New Jersey, fetching rebounds for James and other more-heralded kids – but set him on his path to the University of Florida and two NCAA titles with the Gators.

That’s where the basketball public caught a glimpse of Noah’s burning, team-first intensity, which still flames up on NBA courts on crucial defensive stops or at the final horn in victories. Distilling the emotions from his performances wouldn’t leave much – they’re vital, Thibodeau said, in the way he moves, in the way he recovers.

“Like the thing he talked about with his dad, he’s got unbelievable feet and great, great stamina,” the Bulls coach said. “So what it leads to is his ability to make multiple efforts. You’ll see three, four, five. There are balls he can get to that, when you’re watching, you’re amazed. He gets hit, he’ll keep going, he’ll dive out of bounds, he’ll save it.

“Those things to me are the best leadership that you can have. When another player sees that kind of effort, that does nothing but unite and inspire your team. That brings energy to your team.”

Being contagious on that end might give Noah his greatest defensive satisfaction.

“You have to really commit, sacrifice,” he said. “I just think about so many plays defensively that some of my teammates made. You might even think about a guy like Mike Dunleavy, he’s not known for his defense. There was a time during the year where he got a big gash on his head, got like 10 stictches, and came back in the third quarter. First play he takes a charge.

“He’ll never be remembered as a defensive player, but that means everything. Somebody who’s ready to sacrifice his body to win.”

Nene says no-no to Chicago’s defense

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wizards claim series opener in Chicago

CHICAGO – Nene, the Washington Wizards’ big man by way of Sao Carlos, Brazil, was having trouble Saturday night and Sunday morning. He couldn’t sleep. The 2014 NBA playoffs were soon to start for his team and Nene – already thrilled about coming back from a left knee sprain – didn’t know which was pumping faster: his heart or the adrenaline.

“The mental preparation is very important. Last night I couldn’t sleep well, because I started to think about the game in the middle of the night,” he said Sunday at United Center, the Wizards’ 102-93 road victory over the Chicago Bulls tucked in for the night.

“I started to think about what I was going to do. How I was going to defend. I was very excited about the playoffs. It’s a good feeling because that makes you prepare yourself. I hope I can’t sleep again, to play better.”

Sorry, Nene, but the Bulls will be in charge of the tossing and turning for the next couple of nights.

Starting for the first time since February, Nene made a big difference for the Wizards size-wise, impact-wise and excitement-wise in their first playoff game since 2008. He stepped back into the middle of their action seamlessly, scoring 24 points on 11 of 17 shooting with eight rebounds and three assists.

His aggressiveness became their aggressiveness, and Washington wound up picking apart Chicago’s vaunted defense in several uncommon ways. Teams don’t shoot 50 percent against the Bulls – but the Wizards nearly did so in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series. Their 48.6 percent was close enough, and if you combine it with the Wizards’ two January victories over Chicago, it left them at a legit 50.4 percent (115-for-228) in the three games.


VIDEO: Nene talks about winning Game 1

Bulls opponents hit half their shots or better just 12 times in 82 games but went 10-2 as their reward. If you go strictly by what Washington shot Sunday and only in postseason games, the Bulls are 1-19 since the start of the 2006 playoffs when the other guys are at 48 percent or higher.

Key to that? They embrace their third options, because they know the Bulls are going to take away the first two.

“You can’t predetermine anything,” coach Randy Wittman said. “You can’t make up your mind on a certain play that you’re going to do this. They’re so good defensively, you’ve got to react to what they’re doing. Make the simple plays and the ball moves in simple ways. When we do that, we get pretty good shots. And we’ve got guys who can shoot.

“As soon as you say ‘I’m going to split this pick-and-roll here,’ it’s a turnover. When we don’t do that, when we don’t anticipate and just react to what the defense does and what they want to take away and then go your second or third option, then we’re pretty good.”

The Wizards’ ability to read-and-react kicked in fully after halftime. They fell behind by 13 points in the first few minutes of the third, then outscored Chicago 51-29 the rest of the way. While the points-challenged Bulls shot just 39.5 percent over the final two quarters, the Wizards settled in, hitting half of their 38 attempts and, oh yeah, dominating the boards 24-15.

Nene was especially effective, with a versatility on the offensive end that kept Chicago guessing. He was reliable with his mid-range jump shot, attacked the rim multiple times and, particularly in the second half, was a crafty passer (with a couple of hockey assists mixed in).

Overall, he made life pretty difficult for Bulls center Joakim Noah, one of the favorites for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Good thing the ballots were all cast by Thursday.

Tom Thibodeau, who routinely has the sort of sleepless nights Nene experienced this weekend, lavished praise on the Wizards’ big man, even as he began plotting ways to thwart him. It won’t be easy – Washington was 30-23 when Nene played this season, 14-15 when he did not.

This was only the fourth time in 45 playoff games that he scored as many as 20 points. But he’s healthy now and doesn’t plan on missing any more games. Or fun.

“Today I feel fantastic. First of all, it’s a special day for all of us. It’s Easter Day,” Nene said. “For all humans, it’s a big day. You know, salvation day. And to be able to play playoffs on this specific day is double-blessed.”

Restoring Nene to his rightful spot, next to Wizards center Marcin Gortat, makes them double trouble. Neither big man got in the other’s way in Game 1 – in fact, after a slow start, Gortat finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, 12 and eight in the second half.

“I’m just trying to play off Nene,” Gortat said. “The most important thing is, we not run into each other in the game. Most of the time he’s on the other side of the block – wherever I am, he’s on the other side. The system we have is perfect for both of us. Each one of us is getting to a sweet spot where we can play our game.

“If I start scoring on the pick-and-rolls or put-backs, they’re going to focus a little bit more on me. That opens up things for him. He’s so aggressive, so dominant in the low post that he can create a lot of things for us.”

What Nene created for the Wizards in Game 1, with his scoring, his energy, his passing and his joy of playing again, was hope. Precisely the thing Chicago had hoped to quash.

Numbers preview: Bulls-Wizards

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: East Playoff Preview: Bulls vs. Wizards

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat hold the top two seeds, but six Eastern Conference teams had better records after the All-Star break. Two of those teams will meet in the 4-5 series.

The Chicago Bulls have once again overcome the loss of Derrick Rose. But they’ve also been better since trading Luol Deng than they were before. The Washington Wizards have been solid all season, ending a five year playoff drought with a top-10 defense and one of the league’s most improved offenses.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the 4 and 5 seeds in the East, as well as the three regular-season games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Chicago Bulls (48-34)

Pace: 92.7 (28)
OffRtg: 99.7 (28)
DefRtg: 97.8 (2)
NetRtg: +1.9 (12)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Washington: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Bulls notes:

Washington Wizards (44-38)

Pace: 95.5 (19)
OffRtg: 103.3 (18)
DefRtg: 102.4 (10)
NetRtg: +0.9 (15)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Chicago: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Wizards notes:

The matchup

Season series: Wizards won 2-1 (1-1 at Washington)
Pace: 90.8
CHI OffRtg: 102.3 (15th vs. WAS)
WAS OffRtg: 100.6 (8th vs. CHI)

Matchup notes:

MVP only half the battle for Durant

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has more than just the MVP trophy on his mind this year

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Durant really was tired of being No. 2, finishing second, being a groomsman and never the … you get where this is going.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder star declared earlier this season that he was tired of leading a life filled with being second best, dating as far back to his prep days to Draft night and all the way through his first six seasons in the NBA, he meant every word.

Once the ballots come in for the KIA MVP Award, Durant should finally be able to shed that No. 2 label. He’s already achieved as much in our eyes, topping reigning back-to-back and four-time MVP LeBron James and the rest of a star-studded field for the No. 1 spot on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder.

Durant has already claimed his fourth scoring title in just seven NBA seasons. But has he played his way into that intergalactic category with some of the other universal superstars — James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Kevin Garnett rank among the active MVP or Finals MVPs still in business today?

Could be. He certainly has all of the credentials necessary for inclusion … well, everything but the official word that he is the most valuable player in the NBA. And even that might not be enough validation for Durant, who holds himself to a championship standard.

NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell agrees that Durant has only finished half the battle, provided he walks off with KIA MVP honors. Oh yes, there’s definitely more to be done this season …

Spoiler alert: Kevin Durant will win his first ever Most Valuable Player award.

Durant is average career highs in points (32.0) and assists (5.5) while shooting 50.5% from the field. K.D. winning the award may come as no surprise but the odds of him doing so in route to winning a title may shock you.

Since the inception of the MVP award (1955-56), the hardware has been handed out 57 times. There have been 36 players to win the award however only seven first time MVP winners went on to win a title in the same season.

​Surely Durant can make it eight but it’s been 20 years since we’ve last seen it done. The 1993-94 award went to Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon after which he led them to their first of two NBA titles. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the other six players to join Olajuwon in this feat are no doubt Hall-of-Famers (as seen below) but there are many other legends that didn’t make the cut.

First Time MVPs to win a title in same season
56-57–Bob Cousy (Celtics)
69-70–Willis Reed (Knicks)
70-71–Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (as Lew Alcindor)- Bucks
83-84–Larry Bird (Celtics)
86-87–Magic Johnson (Lakers)
99-00–Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers)
93-94–Hakeem Olajuwon (Rockets)

​Keep in mind 5-time MVP Michael Jordan was occupied with batting cages when Olajuwon won in 1994. As for Durant, former MVPs Tim Duncan and LeBron James still stands in his way.

Consider this, despite the greatness of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving, Jordan, Duncan and James, none of those luminaries were able to win a title the same year they captured their first MVP award.

​There’s so much energy exerted throughout an 82-game season, one can only imagine how tough it would be for a player to win the MVP award for the first time and have enough left for the post season. The edge for Durant may be his 2012 Finals appearance, which resulted in disappointment and ultimately the fuel needed to elevate his game to another level.

​Let me be the first to congratulate Durant and lead the applause on becoming the 37th different player to be named League MVP. It truly is an honor.

So prepare for your twitter mentions to hit a new high.

However, if @KDtrey5 can find a way to become the eighth player to win his first MVP award and a title in the same season, his mentions will far surpass social media.

#All-TimeGreats


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has put up fantasty-like numbers all season for the Thunder

Blogtable: Can’t miss this

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Memories | One to watch | A surprise champ


San Antonio's Tim Duncan has played in 211 playoff games in his illustrious career. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

San Antonio’s Tim Duncan has played in 211 playoff games in his illustrious career. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

> A quick look forward: Other than KD and LeBron, who’s your can’t-miss performer for these playoffs?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comTony Parker. No more resting, no more worries about point-guard rankings as individuals. None of that. Parker gets to quarterback the San Antonio push through the playoffs, and given his experience and the tools at his disposal, I think he’s going to remind people how valuable he really is.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comBlake Griffin.  He’s taken his game to the next level and forced his way into the MVP conversation.  If he keeps it up in the playoffs, the Clippers are a real threat in the West.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comChris Paul. He’s the rare superstar lacking a championship who doesn’t get hassled for having not won one. Think about that. That’s all we do is ask when so-and-so is going to finally win a title? CP3’s in his ninth season yet seems to stay removed from that discussion. He’s made it out of the first round only twice, in 2008 with New Orleans on a team with Tyson Chandler, David West and Peja Stojakovic that lost to San Antonio in Game 7 of the semis, and then his first season with the Clippers when they were swept by the Spurs. A run to the conference finals looks like it will take getting through Golden State and then Oklahoma City, a mighty task indeed, but it’s time for this superstar to get there.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHyland DeAndre Jordan Jr., Clippers. Already putting up big rebounding numbers and on a hot streak with blocks, now he may get the gift beginning of a first round with the Warriors down Andrew Bogut and, still, Festus Ezeli. With the pace Golden State and L.A. play at, a 20-rebound game by Jordan is very realistic. And even if the Clippers open against someone else, Jordan will continue his regular-season impact anyway.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comTim Duncan. At some point, this ride has to end, and we should appreciate the best player of his generation as much as we can, while we can. As a whole, the Spurs are brilliant, but it all starts with Duncan’s leadership and play on both ends of the floor. It will also be fascinating to see if they can get back to where they were last year and somehow redeem themselves for Game 6 and, for Duncan, the missed bunny in Game 7.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There are a number of players I’m expecting to show up and show out in the playoffs, the leading two candidates for MVP, of course, headline the list. But I’ve enjoyed watching Joakim Noah perform as much as I have any single player in the league this season. His playoff breakout came last year, when the Bulls surprised us with that epic effort in that seven-game series against Brooklyn. Noah’s a better player now than he was then and I can see him chasing a triple-double every night in these playoffs. No one brings more raw energy and effort to the party than the Bulls’ big man.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: It’s not exactly like he’s overlooked, but one player I traditionally love watching in the postseason is Chris Paul. The game slows down, offenses become more halfcourt-based, and having a floor general like Paul becomes essential. As great as Paul is during the season, he turns up in the postseason and finds another level. It’s the playoffs where Paul takes over games, threatening triple-doubles and commanding games. And that’s must see TV.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Blake Griffin. His mid-range game, his post play and his athleticism all make him compulsory viewing material. Also, Griffin — who has been at the receiving end of some really hard fouls right through the regular season — will have his patience tested, perhaps, more severely in the playoffs. It would be interesting to see how he responds in the pressure cooker environment that are the playoffs. Chris Paul is undoubtedly the nerve center of the Clippers, but Griffin has to play big if the Clippers are to have a great run.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: I think it will be fun to watch Dirk Nowitzki. He has been relatively healthy all-season long, and after the Dallas’ absence last year Dirk knows he only has a couple of playoff runs left in him. He will surely try to make the most out of it. And with that sweet stroke and unstoppable one-foot fadeaway, it will be fun to watch him torment defenders on the big stage again. DeMar DeRozan is another player to watch out for, the athletic swingman could use the playoffs as his spring board to stardom a la Paul George and provide the fans a showcase of his vastly improved skills.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: I don’t know how we should leave Paul George out of the equation. Especially after last year’s games against the Heat. Or Tim Duncan. He had a phenomenal regular season and it’s really interesting to see if he can carry on his second youth during the postseason.