Posts Tagged ‘Kirk Hinrich’

Morning shootaround — Nov. 22


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wall aces crash course | Crisis time in Cleveland? | Report: Jeff Taylor won’t appeal | Scene of the ouch! for Bulls

No. 1: Wall aces crash course — Two nights earlier, Washington point guard John Wall had been in the middle of a crash-and-burn against the Dallas Mavericks. Coach Randy Wittman directed some criticism directly at his point guard while imploring the Wizards to prove they truly had grown up.
That crash-and-burn turned out to be a crash course for them, Wall in particular, as Washington righted itself in a key third-quarter stretch to beat the highly touted (if currently sideways) Cleveland Cavaliers in the first sellout of the season at Verizon Center. Here’s how Michael Wallace of ESPN.com saw the performance as more than just a one-off for the hungry Washington team:

Two days after Wall was called out and took responsibility for the Dallas loss, he shouted back with one of his most complete games of the season. It was a transformation from third-quarter scapegoat on Wednesday to third-quarter catalyst Friday, having scored 17 of his game-high 28 in that period.

Wall relished the opportunity for redemption on several levels. In addition to his stretch of turnover problems Wednesday, Wall also missed 12 of his 17 shots against the Mavericks. That kept him in the practice facility for an extended shooting workout that lasted nearly an hour after Thursday’s practice.

Another motivating factor, although Wall repeatedly downplayed it publicly, was his matchup with point guard Kyrie Irving, who was selected No. 1 overall a year after Wall was taken with the top pick in 2010. Wall has felt overlooked and underappreciated nationally when compared with Irving.

And it was also an opportunity for Wall to shine in a nationally televised game and return some of the same lessons on patience and process to the star-studded but struggling Cavaliers that [LeBron] James, then with the Miami Heat, used to routinely offer to Wall during tough stretches for the Wizards. The Wizards (8-3) are off to their best start in 40 years, but they lacked a signature victory over a quality opponent after losing to Miami in the season opener and recently to Toronto and Dallas.

***

No. 2: Crisis time in Cleveland? — At the other end of the floor in Washington on Friday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers were in such disarray that even those inclined to cut them slack – Hey, this is what Miami went through with its initial Big Three team in 2010 – were backing off that rationale. These Cavaliers have issues specific to them, because their roster is different from that Miami squad and so is their personality. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are not Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, in terms of their games or their accomplishments when they teamed with LeBron James four years ago. And though he might over time establish himself as a peer, coach David Blatt is an NBA tenderfoot compared to Erik Spoelstra when he had “The Heatles” land in his lap. Spoelstra already had coached two full NBA seasons, which gave him 164 games and two playoff appearances in this league more than Blatt arrived with this summer. The Cavs’ senior traveling beat writer, Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, offered his impressions after the disconcerting, double-digit loss Friday in his enumerated fashion. Here are some of his thoughts:

1. Eleven games into the season, the Cavs are in the dark, David Blatt is concerned about everything and LeBron James is quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. If there is a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” fire alarm inside Cleveland Clinic Courts, you get the feeling Lou Amundson is looking for the hammer.
2. I’m not sure how we’ve advanced so quickly from James saying he was happy with the progress the Cavs made in Thursday’s loss to the Spurs to now James writing this King quote on Twitter: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” It all feels like a bit of an overreaction, even though admittedly this was a terrible loss to a quality opponent.
3. The most alarming part of this loss, at least for me, was the awful body language displayed by most everyone – beginning with James. He failed to get back defensively on multiple plays, hung his head and walked off the floor when he was clearly irritated with a Dion Waiters 3-point attempt and simply did not set the right example. He wasn’t alone, but as the leader of the team the rest of the players are going to follow his lead.
4. He got away with some pouting in Portland. I understood the message he was delivering about sharing the basketball and selfish behavior. But he can’t keep doing it. James admitted Friday he saw the bad body language displayed by just about everyone.

7. In their recent four-game winning streak, which included victories against the Nuggets, Pelicans, Celtics and Hawks, the Cavs averaged 119.3 points, 28 assists, 11 turnovers and shot 51 percent. In the three losses since they’re averaging 88.3 points, 18 assists, 17 turnovers and are shooting 41 percent.
8. There is no excuse, ever, for a team with this much offensive firepower to score 78 points in a game. It was easily a season low, as was the 36 percent shooting night.

***

No. 3: Report: Jeff Taylor won’t appeal — Given the length of the suspension (24 games) imposed by NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Charlotte’s Jeff Taylor for his domestic assault case, it was expected that the NBA players’ union would step up to challenge the penalty. It was, after all, far longer and more harsh than had been imposed in the past for similar and even worse transgressions, as pro sports and the culture at large look anew at such incidents. What wasn’t expected was that Taylor might opt not to appeal, accept Silver’s determination rather than seek arbitration, get his name and reputation out of the media and serve out the final 13 games (on top of 11 already missed) before resuming his NBA career. But that’s what Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported:

Despite the pronounced public backing of his union, Charlotte Hornets forward Jeff Taylor will not file an appeal to the NBA for a 24-game suspension centered on a domestic abuse incident, league sources told Yahoo Sports on Friday.

National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts ripped NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s punishment as “excessive and without precedent” in a statement on Thursday. The union was eager to challenge the NBA on the severity of the suspension based on the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

Nevertheless, Taylor, 25, and his agent chose to accept the suspension and sit the remaining 13 games until he can return to the lineup. Taylor has already missed 11 games stemming from the incident, which occurred prior to the start of the Hornets’ training camp in late September.

Taylor could’ve appealed the decision to an independent arbiter, but Silver and the NBA believed strongly that the commissioner has wide authority to consider domestic violence cases on a per-incident basis.

Taylor pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in Michigan. Taylor had a physical encounter with a woman with whom he was having a relationship at an East Lansing, Mich., hotel.

***

No. 4: Scene of the ouch! for Bulls — Maybe no one ever promised the Chicago Bulls a Rose Garden on their visits to Portland, but this Moda Center trend is getting ridiculous. Playing in the arena where they lost Derrick Rose last November to a second season-scuttling knee injury, the Bulls knew a day earlier they’d be without Rose again (left hamstring), as well as Pau Gasol (left calf) and Kirk Hinrich (chest contusion) when they faced the Trail Blazers on Friday night. So the outcome, a lopsided 105-87 loss, wasn’t a surprise. But adding another injury — Taj Gibson (left ankle) to their already lengthy list of sidelined vital pieces was. And it won’t service Chicago well as it continues its lengthy “circus trip” that won’t end until December. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com had details:

Every time the Bulls come to Portland lately it seems as if something bad happens. Friday night’s game was just the latest example of that. Damian Lillard dominated a depleted Bulls’ squad … The Bulls came into the game having lost eight of their last 10 games in Portland, giving up an average of 101.5 points in each contest according to ESPN Stats & Information. After the Trail Blazers’ latest triumph, the Bulls have now lost seven straight games here.

Aside from the loss, the bigger issue on this night for the Bulls was the fact they lost [Gibson] to a sprained left ankle that could keep him out a little while. Gibson had to be helped off the court by his teammates in a scene similar to the one Rose endured last season. While Gibson’s ankle injury isn’t nearly as serious as Rose’s knee injury was, it had to feel like déjà vu for Bulls’ personnel to see Gibson head to the locker room on crutches and in a walking boot after the game.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t want to hear about the parallel storylines after the game, believing the injuries Rose and Gibson sustained could have happened anywhere.

“I don’t get caught up in that stuff,” he said. “Injuries are part of the game. If a guy gets hurt, he gets hurt. But it’s not the building, it’s not any of that stuff. Injuries are part of the game so you just deal with them.”

His players understand that, but they didn’t feel the same way about the bad mojo that seems to come their way every time they play in Portland.

“F— this place,” one player muttered in the locker room as he peeled off his jersey.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Breaking: Indiana’s Paul George is still out – and likely to stay that way, no matter how good he looks in civilian life. … Ever wonder what Dallas owner Mark Cuban has to say during games (other than to referees, that is)? HBO’s Real Sports provides answers. … Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoewalks back” some of that bravado about the University of Kentucky being able to whomp the Philadelphia 76ers. … That might have changed anyway if a report about Andrei Kirilenko landing in Philly proves to be accurate. … The Minnesota Timberwolves walked in the Indiana Pacers’ shoes, having to face the NBA champions without four-fifths of the Wolves’ starting lineup. And no, wise guys, it wasn’t a good thing.

 

Rose gets shooters, not shot creator

The Bulls are still searching for a scorer to play alongside Derrick Rose.

The Bulls are still searching for a scorer to play alongside Derrick Rose.

CHICAGO – Almost from the day Derrick Rose arrived, the Chicago Bulls have sought a second shot-creator to ease his workload and pose as a secondary threat when the defense stymies their explosive point guard.

Six seasons in, they still don’t have one. Call it the curse of Keith Bogans or something.

What the Bulls do have, though, as camp opens on the 2014-15 season is a squadron of shooters unlike any in recent memory at United Center. None of them is likely to put the ball on the floor and make something out of nothing the way Rose and a few other rare talents in the NBA can.

But as far as putting it in the air to great acclaim — spotting up on the perimeter or cutting-and-catching for opportunities near or beyond the arc –the Bulls have upgraded considerably. They ranked dead last in effective field-goal percentage last season (47.1 percent), 24th in 3-point accuracy (34.8) and last on anything inside the arc (45.6).

It hasn’t been a constant — they had Kyle Korver from 2010-12, and Mike Dunleavy shot 38 percent on 3-pointers last season — but it has been a problem. Now, by design, after going to school on rivals such as San Antonio, Miami, Atlanta and others, Chicago can spot two, three or even four shooters in the halfcourt.

Consider:

The idea, of course, is to spread defenses and open seams for Rose. It’s the next best thing – or maybe an equally effective strategy – to having that second creator, with Rose coming off high pick-and-rolls and finding a quiver full of arrows.

Rose sounded excited after the Bulls’ first scrimmage Tuesday, seeing the new options and how diligently defenders stayed home.

“Just thinking about how I’m actually going to attack in the offense,” Rose said. “I’ve got a lot of space now, especially with Pau being able to knock down that li’l 12-foot shot or 15-foot shot. … It’s just going to be space to really move around.”

Space is important to Rose, providing the lanes he needs to get to the rim. It’s also important to his health because, barring some alternate uniforms made of bubble-wrap and Kevlar, the best way to keep Rose on the court is to keep crowds away from him in the paint. (Asterisk time: Rose was untouched on his two season-snuffing knee injuries.)

Having played only 50 games since his MVP season of 2010-11, Rose might seem ripe to make some serious adjustments in his style of play. He might not be able to do much to lessen the torque of his violent cuts and leaps in attacking the rim, but he can throttle back occasionally and be a little smarter in traffic. He knows it and so do his coaches.

“They’re trying to make the game as simple as possible,” Rose said of some intended tweaks this season. “If I have an open shot, shoot. If I have a pull-up, shoot it. Shoot a lot more floaters so that people won’t touch my body like they did in the past throughout the entire game. I think that really hurts you I think as an athlete — you need your years.”

Chicago needs Rose’s, certainly, after waiting for his knees and his psyche to fully mend. Being wary of unnecessary contact is one of the concessions he’ll try to make to the blown opportunities of the past two years. Not rushing to show everyone, all at once, just how back he really is? That’s another.

Thibodeau, an assistant on the Team USA staff this summer, talked with Rose prior to their FIBA World Cup tour about the impatience he showed last fall. His rush to return to his spot in the NBA’s hierarchy was rusty – until it ended abruptly with torn meniscus in his right knee after just 10 games.

Rose eased back a bit this summer, playing with Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry in the USA backcourt. The Bulls don’t have that depth at point guard but they still don’t want Rose taking on too much, soon.

“Last year he was trying to get it all back in one day,” Thibodeau said. “I thought right before he got re-injured, he was starting to find a good rhythm again. This time, he’s not rushing like he did. But there’s a fine line for him, to still be aggressive, find a rhythm but not force it. I don’t want him to overthink it, I want him to play.”

Whether Rose is working the high pick-and-roll with Gasol or just bursting inside to kick out to Dunleavy, McDermott or Mirotic, the results can be just as effective as standing out top while Carmelo Anthony goes iso again and again.

“Just take pressure off of him,” said Gasol, who will try to develop an offensive chemistry not unlike what he had with Kobe Bryant in the Lakers’ best-of-times. “By playing well, by doing your job, by not having him have to force too much offensively or the pressure to create too much. When you have the weapons that we have, I think it takes pressure off of him. Creates and gives him space, and things become easier for him.”

Healthier, too.

Morning Shootaround — August 2



VIDEO: Paul George’s injury halts Team USA’s scrimmage in Las Vegas

NEWS OF THE MORNING
George has surgery after suffering gruesome injury | Parker signs extension | Rose high on Bulls squad | Wade drops weight

No. 1: George suffers gruesome leg fracture — Indiana Pacers All-Star small forward Paul George suffered an open tibia-fibula fracture during Team USA’s scrimmage and is expected to remain hospitalized for about three days, USA Basketball confirmed in a statement released after surgery was completed. The gruesome injury sent George away on a stretcher with his parents by his side and ended the men’s national team scrimmage early in the fourth quarter. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was on the scene:

In the first minute of the fourth quarter of the USA Basketball Showcase on Friday, George attempted to block a James Harden layup on a fast break. On his landing, his right leg buckled as it hit the basket support.

Players around George were shaken by what they saw. As George received medical attention on the baseline of the Thomas & Mack Center, his mother and father came down from the crowd and were by his side. Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was also in attendance.

“[George] appeared, like, stoic,” USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said afterward. “They allowed his father to touch him and to comfort him. I thought our trainers did a great job, right away, of making sure, emotionally, he was as good as possible. But Paul reacted well.”

Both teams gathered together in prayer before George was taken away in a stretcher. And there was a universal decision to end the game with 9:33 to go.

“With the serious injury that we had,” Krzyzewski announced to the assembled crowd, “and the fact that we stopped playing for a long time and, really, in respect for Paul and his family, the scrimmage is done. We want to thank you for your support.”

Afterward, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said that there would be no decisions on the USA roster “for a while.”

“We need to just take a step back before we do anything at all,” Colangelo said. “Our first concern, our primary concern is Paul George.”

Colangelo and Krzyzewski said that they would be heading to the hospital immediately after speaking to the media. They had been set to cut the roster down from 20 to 15, likely early Saturday. But the team is not scheduled to reconvene until Aug. 14 in Chicago and there’s no urgency to make any decisions now.

Before George’s injury, Friday night was about the performance of Derrick Rose, who looked as quick and explosive as ever in his first game in almost nine months. But just as the USA and the NBA got one star back, it lost another. George was set to be the starting small forward for the U.S. Team at the World Cup, which begins Aug. 30 in Spain. And though there are no details on his injury as of yet, it is likely to keep him out several months.

“We are aware of the injury sustained by Paul George in Friday night’s Team USA game in Las Vegas and we are obviously greatly concerned,” Pacers president Larry Bird said in a statement. “At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with Paul.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Paul George’s injury (more…)

Morning shootaround — July 14


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: KG open to Nets return? | Report: Spurs, Bonner reach deal | Bulls round out roster | Ariza-to-Houston deal grows

No. 1: Report: KG still ‘excited’ to play for Nets — Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Garnett will be entering his 20th NBA season if he chooses to play in 2014-15. The likelihood of him playing next season was always up in the air … but is it even more so now? Garnett’s longtime teammate, Paul Pierce, agreed to a deal with the Washington Wizards over the weekend and led some to think perhaps KG will hang it up for sure this summer. ESPN.com’s Mike Mazzeo writes that Garnett may still be back in Brooklyn next season anyway:

Despite the loss of Paul Pierce via free agency, Kevin Garnett likes the direction of the Brooklyn Nets and is “excited” about joining them for the upcoming season, sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard.

Garnett, who turned 38 in May, is due $12 million in 2014-15, which would be his 20th NBA season.

He has yet to publicly announce that he’s playing this season, but all indications continue to point that way. On Saturday, a league source told ESPNNewYork.com that the Nets still expect Garnett to return.

Pierce elected to sign a two-year contract with the Washington Wizards for $11 million with a second-year player option, sources told ESPN.com.

Pierce and Garnett had been teammates since 2007-08. They won a championship together with the Boston Celtics.


VIDEO: Paul Pierce and the Wizards agree on a two-year deal (more…)

2014 Free Agency — Still Going …

From NBA.com staff reports

Just because LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol and so many other high-profile free agent targets have already made their decisions doesn’t mean this summer’s free agent party is over. The center of the basketball universe is in Las Vegas for Summer League, that’s where the games are being played and the movers and shakers are stationed right now. But the grind of free agency continues all over the place. We’re not done yet …

Update, 1:17 a.m. — Take some quiet time, Pau

After a long day of team decision-making and contract-negotiating, Pau Gasol is ready to ponder his vacation and his future … quietly, of course.

Update, 11:42 p.m. — Rio still feeling the Heat

Another original “Heatles” member is getting closer to being back in the fold, with Mario Chalmers getting a couple more years in Miami.

Update, 11:33 p.m. — Three more years!

Looks like Pau Gasol is ready for the (semi) long haul in bringing a title to Chicago, working on a three-year deal for reasonable price.

Update, 9:48 p.m. — More shooting for SVG

The Detroit Pistons ranked 29th in 3-point percentage last season. And it’s been obvious from the start of free agency that priority No. 1 for new president and coach Stan Van Gundy is improving that mark. He started by adding Jodie Meeks (40.1 percent from three last season) and Cartier Martin (39.1 percent). Now, he’s adding more shooting with the additions of D.J. Augustin (40.1 percent) and Caron Butler (39.4 percent)...

None of these four guys can make a huge impact individually. But collectively, they will space the floor for Detroit’s bigs. And none of them break the bank, with contracts that can easily be worked into trades.

Of course, Greg Monroe remains unsigned as a restricted free agent. Butler probably shouldn’t be a starting small forward anymore, but he could definitely make Josh Smith more of a permanent four than he was last season.

One more note: The Augustin addition is bad news for second-year point guard Peyton Siva, whose contract would become guaranteed on July 20 if he’s not waived by then. Siva must not have made enough of an impression on Van Gundy in Summer League.

Update, 8:40 p.m. — Birdman back

LeBron James is gone, but the rest of the Heat’s rotation is quickly coming back together. Earlier Sunday, Miami reached an agreement with Mario Chalmers on a new contract. And now, it’s the Birdman who has re-upped.

Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and James Jones are still free agents, but the Heat are reportedly working things out with Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem.

Update, 7:02 p.m. — Three-way deal for Ariza

Before the Draft, the Houston Rockets agreed to send Omer Asik to New Orleans. On Saturday, they agreed to sign Trevor Ariza to a four-year contract. And on Sunday, those two deals came together in the form of a three-team sign-and-trade transaction.

Update, 6:30 p.m. — Mirotic is on his way

Pau Gasol isn’t the only international big man that the Chicago Bulls are adding this summer. Nikola Mirotic, a first-round pick in 2011 from Montenegro, announced that he’s on his way as well.

Update, 6:06 p.m. — His name is Rio

Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade may have lost Superfriend LeBron James, but they will still have Mario Chalmers to yell at …

Update, 5:58 p.m. — Rockets pass on Parsons

In a bit of a surprise, the Houston Rockets will let Chandler Parsons head to their division rivals, who have made some upgrades (Parsons and Tyson Chandler) this summer …

At one point, we thought the Rockets were going to have a lineup of Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Parsons, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard. As it turns out, they’ve dealt away their depth (Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin), swapped Parsons for Trevor Ariza, and helped three fellow Western Conference teams (Lakers, Mavs and Pelicans) improve. They’re also giving the Washington Wizards an asset…

Update, 5:16 p.m. — Champs in tact

Fourteen different Spurs logged at least one minute in the playoffs. We know now that at least 13 of the 14 will be back in silver and black (Aron Baynes remains a restricted free agent) …

Update, 5:07 p.m. — Together Forever

Kirk Hinrich once played for a couple of teams other than the Chicago Bulls. Really. But he won’t be leaving Chicago again, at least not this summer …

Update, 4:32 p.m. — Mavs get at least one SF today

The Dallas Mavericks are still awaiting word from the Houston Rockets on their offer sheet for Chandler Parsons, but that isn’t stopping them from signing a back-up plan. If you need size on the wings, you could do worse than Richard Jefferson, who has shot 41 percent or better from 3-point range in three of his last four seasons

Update, 4:20 p.m. — Hinrich will be a Bull forever

The Charlotte Hornets were in the market for Kirk Hinrich, but with their agreement to sign back-up point guard Brian Roberts, it appears that Kirk Hinrich will be back in Chicago for more years of being Derrick Rose‘s back-up and/or fill-in …

Update, 3:48 p.m. — Kemba’s new back-up

Much to the chagrin of Hang Time’s Sekou Smith, Luke Ridnour‘s services are no longer needed in Charlotte, because Brian Roberts is a Hornet once again. He’ll be the first guy to play for the Charlotte version after playing for the New Orleans version …

Update, 3:24 p.m. — Deng had choices

Joining Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra in sunny South Florida is a pretty good move, but Luol Deng had other options on Sunday…

Update, 2:30 p.m. — Filling LeBron’s shoes

LeBron James took Luol Deng‘s job in Cleveland. And now the Miami Heat have replaced James with Deng. Bosh, Deng and Wade isn’t a bad core to build around …

https://twitter.com/WojYahooNBA/status/488390123893960706

Update, 2:05 p.m. — Show Luol the money

There are a few teams still looking for a small forward who can play both ends of the floor. Luol Deng knows that and knows he can take advantage of the market …

Update, 1:55 p.m. — Trying to get (most of) the band back together

The Heat will have Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh back, but there are still some more roster spots to fill, and some guys they can bring back. The Birdman is one of them …

Update, 1:50 p.m. – Who?

The Bulls are moving on without that guy who scores 27 points a game …

Update, 1:30 p.m. – Wolves draw a line in the sand

The Timberwolves aren’t selling Kevin Love for pennies on the dollar …

Update, 12:35 p.m. — Melo’s City, Melo’s Heart

It’s not the most original concept, but you see the trend here …

Update, 12:21 p.m. — Still waiting on Rockets

Tick, Tock!

Update, 11:56 a.m. — Heat still a 50-win outfit?

Jeff Van Gundy says yes.

Update, 11:50 a.m. — LeBron Jersey of The Day

Welcome home!

Update, 11:26 a.m. — Evan Turner smiling through free agency

Jay and Bey don’t care about free agency!

Update, 11:09 a.m. — Gilbert explains how he and LeBron cleared the air

The greatest rebound of Dan Gilbert‘s professional career has to be coming back from his dreaded letter after “The Decision.” Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press weighs after talking with Gilbert, who took Albom through his reconciliation process with LeBron:

He pondered that as the plane descended into Florida. He and James hadn’t spoken since that night. Four years. They’d seen each other a few times. “I’d sit on the baseline when he came back to play in Cleveland. He’d look at me from the free-throw line. Not good. Not bad. Just look.”

Now he was scheduled to meet James, in secret, to discuss what seemed impossible just days earlier — a return to the Cavs. The whole world was hanging on the news. But as Gilbert glanced out the window, for a moment he wasn’t a billionaire Detroit businessman or an NBA owner. He was every guy seeing his ex-wife after the divorce, every teen guitarist seeing a former friend who broke up the band.

“I had told LeBron’s guys, whether he comes back or not, I really want to clear the air. It shouldn’t be like this.”

He hoped that part would go smoothly. Then someone on board yelled the media had discovered his plane was en route, and a new airport had to be quickly found.

Gilbert realized nothing was going to be easy.

The moment of truth

But then, saying you’re sorry never is. You do it anyway. Long after the basketball smoke clears from this story, that’s the human part we ought to remember.

You shouldn’t be known for the worst thing you ever did. Gilbert entered that private home meeting by himself, no assistants, and sat down at a dining-room table across from James and a few associates.

“First thing I said to him was, ‘LeBron, you know this is true. We had five good years and one bad night. Like a marriage that’s good and then one bad thing happens and you never talk to each other again.

“ ‘I’m just glad we’re here, whether you come or not, LeBron. This has been hanging over my head.’ ”

To his surprise, he soon heard James saying the same thing. The superstar said he regretted the infamous “The Decision” broadcast. He said he didn’t think it out properly. In short, many of the things Gilbert was thinking about his own actions.

“I apologized and we talked and it took maybe 15 or 20 minutes. That’s it. Then I said, ‘Is that enough about the past?’ And we started talking about the future.”

Update, 10:40 a.m. — Wizards replace perfect fit with a Hall of Famer

Even swap?

Update, 10:38 a.m. — Mavericks-Rockets rivalry extends off the court

Never let business get personal.

Update, 10:20 a.m. — Rockets on the clock for Parsons

This is going to be a long day in both Houston and Dallas as the Rockets consider their options on Chandler Parsons. The countdown clock is ticking for Daryl Morey and Co. Do they match the Mavericks’ offer sheet to Parsons now that Trevor Ariza is in the fold?

They have until 11:59 p.m. to decide.

Update, 9:50 a.m. — The ultimate power

The power of LeBron!

Update, 9:40 a.m. — Deng, Heat far apart

The Heat can close the gap and stay relevant in the Eastern Conference chase with Deng in the fold.

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:

One gear: Thibodeau, Bulls continue to grind forward

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Tom Thibodeau's intensity has set the tone for the one-speed Bulls. (Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

Tom Thibodeau’s intensity has set the tone for the one-speed Bulls. (Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

CHICAGO – If the Chicago Bulls didn’t exist, NBA commissioner Adam Silver would have to invent them.

As this team rests its star players for a fresh start in the NBA postseason, as that team eyeballs the standings to scale its efforts on a given night to playoff positioning or lottery chances, the Chicago Bulls trudge forward, always forward.

Sometimes they march. Sometimes they plod. Every once in a while, the game flows more freely and you’d swear you saw swooshes on their work boots. But this is a one-direction, one-speed, one-gear team – forward, forever in overdrive – that doesn’t apologize when critics seize on that as a problem at this time of year: The Bulls play so hard all the time, so there’s no “next level” to which they can take their game in the playoffs.

Like that’s a bad thing.

So what if Chicago doesn’t click-clack through the shift gate like some exotic sports coupe flitting about the Riviera? Armored tanks, steamrollers and threshers seem to do fine without dual-clutch 7-speed gearboxes. So do Terminators, a.k.a., Tom Thibodeau.

“We’re not changing,” Thibodeau said after the 108-95 victory over Orlando in the Bulls’ home finale. “We’re trying to win games. … We’re not changing our approach: Every game, analyze what we’re doing well, what we’re doing not as well as we would like, make our corrections, move on to the next one, know the opponent well, keep moving forward. That’s all we can do.”

You could stump a few Chicagoans by asking to identify the source of the following quote: “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.” Who said that: Michael Biehn‘s character in the original “Terminator?” Or a Bulls player, requesting anonymity, in describing Thibs?

Forward Taj Gibson didn’t take the unnamed route when he went there Monday.

“You guys have been around for a minute now,” Gibson, a top Sixth Man candidate, told reporters. “You guys should know that guy in the other room over there, he’s not going to tell anybody to take any rest. He’s old school. He doesn’t believe in that. He just believes in pushing forward.


VIDEO: The passion of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau

“Like he said, ‘The finish line is ahead. You’ve got to just run through it. You can’t slow up, you can’t try to trot through. You’ve got to run full speed ahead through it and whatever happens, happens.’ He told us, ‘We want to walk through the fire together as a team, as a unit. Nobody’s going to take that from you. You’ve just got to keep walking through it. Don’t stop for anything.’ “

OK, so there’s no ring collection in the Chicago locker room. Backup center Nazr Mohammed is the only player to have reached The Finals, never mind win the title, and the Bulls’ collection of Larry O’Brien trophies has fit on the same shelf for 16 years now.

But then, Thibodeau and his crew aren’t preachy about their relentless ways – heck, it might scare off some free agents the way tales of Pat Riley‘s taped, full-contact, two-hour “shootarounds” used to. Grinding steadily forward simply is what has worked for Chicago.

There really wasn’t much choice, after the long-anticipated return of MVP candidate Derrick Rose ended just 10 games in. Rose’s second season-ending knee injury and the subsequent trade of All-Star Luol Deng threatened to do more than just slam shut this Bulls edition’s championship window. It had some fans luridly licking their chops over lottery slots. They, of course, were the ones who know nothing about Thibodeau.

The Bulls are 21-8 since the All-Star break and 34-17 since trading Deng in early January. Their defense is a constant, the relentless embodiment of their head coach. And though Chicago ranks ranks 28th in offensive rating (102.7), the Bulls lately have been almost breezy, scoring 100 points or more in five of their past seven.

With Gibson and Joakim Noah developing as scoring options, with shooter Mike Dunleavy moving into a starting spot up front and with D.J. Augustin dusting off his career as Thibodeau’s latest point-guard reclamation project, the offense has hit triple digits 14 times in its 29 post-break games vs. 11 times in the 52 before it.

Their 100-89 loss Sunday in New York snapped a seven-game winning streak, but at least it wasn’t the result of guessing at the Indiana-Miami flip-flopping atop the conference and trying to game the playoff seedings. If anything the Bulls Game 7 everything.

“It’s made us who we are,” guard Kirk Hinrich said after the Magic victory. “That’s just kind of the makeup of this group and the beliefs that [Thibodeau] goes by. Us as players, there’s something to be said about just coming in, preparing. You feel prepared, you’re confident, and that goes a long way.”

Dunleavy occasionally has rolled his eyes at the work-load demands he has faced under Thibodeau. Then again, the 6-foot-9 forward didn’t play on a .500 team in his first 11 NBA seasons, so he’s not complaining.

“Playing with high intensity like we do all year helps,” he said. “I certainly am going to keep the same approach in the playoffs. It’s just another game because I think we prepare for every regular-season game like it’s a playoff game. That’s the way we’ve been doing it, and hopefully we roll right through in terms of smoothness and transition into the postseason.”

Roll? Typically by this time each spring, the Bulls are limping and bleeding. Once the smoke and smell of sulfur from Rose’s latest demise cleared, though, the rest of the roster got and largely has remained healthy. As hard as Thibodeau pushes, they have become true believers in the ol’ “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” ethos.

“We believe in ourselves, we believe in our abilities,” Noah said. “We think we’re going to be a tough out. We’re going to go out there and give them hell.”

Forty-eight minutes of it, sometimes served up that way per man (see Jimmy Butler, 2013 postseason). All in one gear, at one speed.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pistons’ Gores has more decisions ahead | Clippers soar in Paul’s return | World Peace has advice for Smart | No change in Kobe’s plans; another setback for Nash

No. 1: Pistons owner Gores has more work to do fix Motor City mess Tom Gores took the first step in attempting to fix the mess that is the Detroit Pistons by firing his head coach, Maurice Cheeks. That’s only the beginning of the heavy lifting he’ll have to do to fix what ails the once-proud Pistons, according to Terry Foster of the Detroit News., who reiterates what our Steve Aschburner said in the immediate aftermath of Cheeks being fired. And the list is long and starts with Pistons president Joe Dumars and includes several players who should all be in the crosshairs for a franchise that expected so much more from this season:

Gores owns this shipwreck and he probably doesn’t know what to do with it. Let me give him some advice:

He’s already issued his playoff-or-else edict for the season and can’t back down now. However, he can’t ignore long-term goals — that should be his most pressing concern.

Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe and Charlie Villanueva have been dangled as trade bait. The Pistons could go one of two ways. They could trade these pieces and try to get a small forward that could help them win now. Or they could trade these guys to free up cap space and retain their draft pick by slumping to one of the eight worst records in the league.

Option No. 2 means the Pistons would miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season. I am OK with that as long as they have one of the league’s eight-worst records so they can keep their pick in this talent-heavy draft.

The Pistons are a half-game behind Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The last time the Pistons made the playoffs as an eight seed was 2009. They were swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

How did that experience work out? The Pistons are 132-226 since.

The Pistons likely would play the Pacers as an eight seed or the two-time defending champion Heat as a seventh seed. Both teams would sweep the Pistons. So what is the point?

The Pistons are a young team and playoff experience is an important learning experience. However, the Pistons might get drummed out before they can get their notebooks out.

“I still have a lot of hope for this season and I expect our players to step up,” Gores said.

Speaking of players, black marks on Cheeks’ record undoubtedly were the run-ins he had with Josh Smith and Will Bynum — which continue a trend of Pistons players having too much say. Does anyone remember the John Kuester mutiny?

Gores has to provide direction to this franchise. He has to establish a vision. If he doesn’t the Pistons will continue to play in front of a lot of empty seats.


VIDEO: Detroit became the first team to fire its coach this season

***

No. 2: Lob City was alive and well in Chris Paul’s return to the Clippers – Life without Chris Paul for the Los Angeles Clippers was certainly manageable. In fact, Blake Griffin ripped it up in Paul’s absence. But it’s good to have their All-Star point guard and floor leader back, as the world saw Sunday in the Clippers’ rout of the Philadelphia 76ers. It was a welcome back party, of sorts, that signals a second-half charge for the Clippers that should include a rise up the Western Conference food chain. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times recounts the return of Paul in the biggest (literally) win in franchise history:

It was Showtime at Staples Center on Sunday night, starring the return of Chris Paul, the comeback of Blake Griffin from an injury scare and the rest of the Clippers playing their roles.

Playing in his first game since he separated his right shoulder Jan. 3 at Dallas, Paul had seven points and eight assists in the Clippers’ show-stopping and franchise-record-setting 123-78 victory over the overmatched Philadelphia 76ers.

With Griffin overcoming a bruised left shin suffered in the first quarter to score 26 points, grab 11 rebounds and hand out six assists, the Clippers set a franchise record for biggest margin of victory.

The Clippers held the 76ers to an opponent franchise-low 27% (27 for 100) shooting. The Clippers set a franchise record for biggest lead at the half when they opened a 69-30 lead after two quarters.

They built a lead as big as 56 points, their largest of the season. So after missing the last 18 games recovering from his injury, this is what Paul came back to.

“It felt great to play,” said Paul, who played 22 minutes 44 seconds. “It’s one of those things you never know what it’s going to be like until you actually get out there and compete and play. It just felt good.”

Griffin went down late in the first quarter after Tony Wroten slipped while driving and stumbled into Griffin.

After he limped to the locker room with head athletic trainer Jasen Powell, Griffin checked back into the game with 7:31 left in the second quarter.

In case anyone was wondering if Griffin was fine and that he and Paul were on the same page, they got their answer twice in the second quarter.

Paul had a breakaway layup, but threw the ball off the backboard, allowing Griffin to catch it and throw down a windmill dunk.

Then later in the second quarter, Griffin dribbled up court, made a behind-the-back pass with his left hand to Paul, who threw a lob that Griffin dunked, bringing the crowd to its feet again.

So, Griffin was asked after the game, how hard was it play with Paul again?

“It was tough, but we managed,” Griffin deadpanned, laughing along with the media.


VIDEO: Who didn’t get dunked on Sunday? The Top 10 plays includes plenty from the Clippers

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No. 3: World Peace has words of wisdom for Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart – If there is any one man on the planet who knows what Oklahoma State Marcus Smart is feeling in the aftermath of the fan-shoving incident he was in the middle of Saturday night, it’s veteran New York Knicks forward Metta World Peace. He, as Ron Artest then, was at the epicenter of the infamous Malice at the Palace of Auburn Hills. World Peace insists there are plenty of lessons to be learned from what Smart is going through now and will during and after his three-game suspension:

World Peace said Smart — who is projected to be a high NBA draft pick — might benefit from learning how to deal with obnoxious fans at age 19, before he becomes a pro and millions of dollars are on the line.

“Just in general, I heard the kid is pretty good and a potential pro,” World Peace said Sunday before his game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “So those types of challenges on the court when you’re playing and fans are rooting against you — that was a great lesson learned, so that hopefully when he does become a pro, he’ll be able to kind of withstand the fans that are rooting against him on the road.”

World Peace also said Smart needs to learn to control his energy.

“I think that emotion and that fire could be directed towards winning on the court instead of directed other ways,” he said.

World Peace said given the chance, he would advise Smart to be aware of the big picture when making decisions.

At 19 years old, when I came out of St. John’s, I was fresh out the ‘hood. I was fresh out of Queensbridge,” he said. “So my mentality was still struggle, defensive and things like that. I wasn’t really conscious. I’m 34 years old now. So he’s a young kid. I wish I would have listened when I was a kid to my elders or people who had my best interests at heart, and then I wish I would have been more conscious at that age also. Those are two things that, if you were to reach out to a kid like Marcus — a talented kid, future leader in the community — you would tell him those things.”

World Peace said more guidelines should be in place for college fans because college players don’t get paid. He said fans should have more leeway at NBA games.

“As far as the pros, people pay to come and see us, and I appreciate it because I’m able to take care of my family,” he said. “So I don’t really judge fans about what they say, good or bad.”

***

No. 4: No change for Kobe’s return and another injury scare for Nash – For all of us who think we know what’s best for Kobe Bryant, save the advice. Bryant isn’t making any changes to his comeback plans for the Los Angeles Lakers this season. He told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin as much over the weekend:

Despite continuing to be sidelined with a left knee injury and seeing his team continue to fall further out of the playoff picture, Kobe Bryant remains steadfast in his intention to return to the court this season.

“My plan hasn’t changed,” Bryant said Sunday at an event to promote his newest signature sneaker, the Nike Kobe 9 Elite Masterpiece. “I’m just going about it every single day just trying to get better. That’s my job. My job is to get my butt back out there on the court when I’m healthy enough to play and that hasn’t changed.”

Bryant, out since Dec. 17 with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee and averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 42.5 percent shooting this season, has missed the Lakers’ last 26 games. He missed the Lakers’ first 19 games this season because of a torn Achilles in his left leg.

The 18-year veteran is scheduled to be re-evaluated after the All-Star Game next week, but wouldn’t venture a guess as to when he could actually return to game action.

“That I don’t know,” Bryant said. “It’s completely out of my control. I really got to sit here and just wait until this thing heals up and then go out there and do what I do.”

He reiterated his confidence that he would not miss the rest of the 2013-14 season, however.

When asked what his best-case scenario would be upon a return this season, Bryant replied: “Play like me. That’s it.”

The news on Steve Nash isn’t quite as positive. He didn’t finish Sunday’s game against the Bulls, exiting with a nerve irritation in his left leg. He’s scheduled to be evaluated today. But things don’t look good for the NBA’s elder statesman:

Nash received contact to his left leg from Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich as he turned the ball over with 9:18 remaining in the third quarter. The contact was near the same spot where he suffered a fracture in the leg last season. He stayed in the game until there was 5:00 remaining in the quarter and went straight to the locker room.

“I just took a knee to the spot where I broke my leg,” Nash said. “Ever since I did that I’ve had a lot of nerve issues there and it just really flared up on me. I don’t think it’s going to be a long-term thing at all. Hopefully it’s something that can just settle down this week, hopefully by Tuesday.”

The Lakers host the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

“[Once] that nerve flared up and I started to compensate, I wasn’t going to be very effective … and I also was going to risk going back on all that work I did to get back on the court,” Nash said.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said Nash’s back started to tighten up from the nerve issues, causing the veteran point guard to limp on the court.

Nash, who turned 40 on Friday, had played in three of the Lakers’ last four games after missing nearly three months of game action because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings.

“It wasn’t like I broke it again,” Nash said. “I just kind of irritated the nerve and I’m hopeful that all the stuff that I’ve been doing will be able to overcome that little bit of irritation. It’s kind of transient and hopefully I’ll wake up tomorrow and feel better.”


VIDEO: See how easy Kevin Durant makes it look in the Nightly Notable

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: You’ll have to forgive the Magic for acting like they won a championship when they knocked off the Pacers but every win, especially against an elite team, matters when they come as sparingly as they do in Orlando … Acting Cavs GM David Griffin says they are buying at the trade deadline in Cleveland … Thunder star Russell Westbrook is gearing up for his return after the All-Star breakRick Carlisle couldn’t resist the inevitable Dirk Nowitzki-Larry Bird comparisons over the weekend in Boston …

ICYMI of the Night: The Clippers went to town in their rout of the Sixers and no one had more fun in the blowout than the Clippers’ All-Star power forward Blake Griffin, who shows off a bit with one of his many dunks …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin goes off the glass, courtesy of Chris Paul

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 8


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Warriors pursuing Hinrich? | Gasol tunes out trade chatter | Wallace lays into Celtics after loss | Nuggets could save money on Gallinari | Horford opens up on goals, season

No. 1: Report: Warriors may be interested in Hinrich — With last night’s victory in Milwaukee, the Golden State Warriors have been the hottest team in the league and are riding a 10-game win streak. But, as our own John Schuhmann pointed out in a conversation with GameTime on Monday night, all is not perfect, roster-wise, in Oakland. In particular, the Warriors are playing point guard Steph Curry and small forward/point forward Andre Iguodala an awful lot simply because the team has yet to find a capable backup playmaker. That may lend some credence to the report from USA Today‘s Sam Amick, who writes that Golden State could be interested in working a trade for Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich:

When news broke late Monday night that the Chicago Bulls had broken up their championship-contending core by trading Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the proverbial blood was in the water almost immediately.

Rival executives had been waiting and wondering whether the Bulls would have to go this route, to opt for Plan B because of Derrick Rose‘s second season-ending injury by finally succumbing to the league’s collective bargaining agreement by way of a money-saving deal. And so they did, taking on Andrew Bynum‘s contract for the right to waive him and sneak under the luxury tax that is so much more punitive than it has been in the past. The Bulls landed three draft picks in the trade as well (a first and two seconds) but the strong message had been sent that the Bulls’ shop may finally be open for business.

Bulls fans, players and most certainly coach Tom Thibodeau may be in mourning today, as Deng was a fan favorite and this is as tough as NBA decisions come. But this is welcome news for everyone else around the league.

So, what’s next? We shall see.

While forward Carlos Boozer could be waived via the league’s amnesty clause during the offseason as yet another way to clear the Bulls’ books, it appears point guard Kirk Hinrich will be drawing the most immediate interest when it comes to the Bulls’ possible next move. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the Golden State Warriors are among teams that had been showing serious interest in Hinrich long before the Deng trade. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because trade talks are typically private.

Even with the Warriors’ current nine-game winning streak, they remain on the lookout for a point guard to play behind Stephen Curry. While small forward Andre Iguodala spends ample time as a playmaking point-forward and veteran Toney Douglas provides spot minutes, this is the void that was created when Jarrett Jack left for Cleveland as a free agent last July. Hinrich is certainly not the only possible solution on the Warriors’ radar, as they remain in the mix for Denver point guard Andre Miller as well.

***

No. 2: Lakers’ Gasol not sweating trade talks — Before Andrew Bynum was traded to the Chicago Bulls early Tuesday morning (and, whom the Bulls cut a day later), his name was most closely linked with his former teammate in Los Angeles, Pau Gasol. For weeks, Gasol had to listen as his name was bandied about in the rumors for Bynum. But it wasn’t the first time Gasol has been in trade rumors since joining the Lakers and even though he dodged a bullet this time, Gasol is doing what he can to not worry about trade rumors, writes our own Jeff Caplan:

Monday for Gasol was D-day. The deadline for Cleveland to trade Bynum was ticking down with one false alarm already doused. For the Lakers, Monday meant a practice at the team’s training facility in El Segundo followed by a flight to Dallas where they would play the Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Tick. Tock.

Gasol tried to make it feel like any other day, but it was impossible to totally shake the odd feeling of not knowing if he would join his teammates on the flight to Dallas, or make arrangements to catch one to Cleveland.

“I packed my bags like I was going on the plane and doing my job, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Gasol said. “But you know, the thought crossed my mind, obviously. I came into practice like any other day. If something would have happened, somebody would have come to me or called me and told me, ‘Look it’s done.’ “

Nothing.

The Lakers’ charter departed LAX at 2 p.m. Pacific Time and arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport around 7 p.m. local time. The team then bused to the hotel. Still nothing.

“Pretty quiet, pretty calm,” Gasol said, describing how the day was unfolding.

Tick. Tock.

Then, about 15 minutes before midnight Central Time, Twitter erupted with news of a major trade. An All-Star forward was headed to Cleveland in exchange for Bynum and Draft picks. Only it was the Chicago Bull’s Luol Deng, a regular in the rumor mill, but a something of a stunner to be the one going to the Cavaliers at the midnight hour.

“I was up,” Gasol said. “I guess that was kind of the confirmation that it didn’t involve me. At that point I thought that nothing was going to happen either way for anyone, but I guess it did, and now obviously, I’m glad I continue to be a Laker.

“It felt like it was pretty much done at times and that’s the way the media put it out or leaked it,” Gasol said. “It feels good to survive, I guess, and live to fight another day. That’s what they say, right? I’d like to continue to be here, but that’s not up to me.”

“I don’t really know how it really played out. I don’t know what was the reason that it didn’t happen, I don’t know that,” Gasol said. “So I know there are probably going to be other rumors and potential trades coming up, but I can’t really worry about it. I just need to continue what I’ve been doing, which is come in, be ready to play and focus on what I need to do as a player for myself and my teammates.”

***

No. 3: Wallace lays into Celtics after loss to Nuggets — Small forward Gerald Wallace is the second-oldest player on the Celtics and seems determined to leave a lasting impression on Boston’s young core no matter what. Throughout the season, he’s been one of the most vocal members of the team — particularly when Boston isn’t giving a full effort — and was none too happy last night after the Celtics got waxed by the Nuggets in Denver, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

Gerald Wallace has emerged as the Celtics’ voice of reason and biggest critic in his first season in Boston and once again he challenged the team following its embarrassing 129-98 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. Denver canned 14 3-pointers, attempted 38 free throws and led by 22 points at halftime.The Celtics allowed 103 points through the first three quarters and looked discouraged and lethargic throughout the night.

“I’m very surprised. Right now, we’re the team that’s all talk,” he said. “We talk about how we want to get better. We talk about things we need to do to get better. It’s easy to go out and practice and do it. Practice doesn’t really apply to anything with making yourself better. When they turn them lights on, when it really counts, when it’s about the team and making the team better and trying to win as a team, we don’t do it.”

Jared Sullinger‘s evening exemplified that of his team. He was called for two flagrant fouls in a 23-second span and was ejected in the third quarter. Sullinger now has five flagrant points and would serve a 1-game suspension with his next flagrant 1 foul.

“Hey, Denver was doing everything the right way, so everything was going their way,” Wallace said. “The way we played, the way we play as a team, the things that we do, we don’t deserve to get the calls they got. They got them. Jared’s first (flagrant) was 50-50 and the second one, I’ve seen that play done 50 times, that’s my first time ever seen it called a flagrant foul. Everything was going their way, so why should get the benefit of the doubt? We’re not playing worth a crap anyway.”

The Celtics have dropped eight of nine games and have allowed 248 points in the past two games. Wallace said he is done with team meetings and gatherings to figure out the issue.

“Like I said, guys gotta look in the mirror man. It’s gotta be the individual. It’s gotta be timeout for I and what I can do to help us win?” he said. “What can I do to help the team win? What can I come out on the court and provide to make our team better? Right now it’s too much of ‘I,’ too many guys trying to do it on their own and in this league, that’s hard to do.”

Finally, Wallace said the Celtics have all the right answers in the locker room but they don’t translate to the court.

“We done met, we done talked, we done did everything, we done argued, fussed, complained, moaned, everything you can do,” he said. “It doesn’t matter in here. It matters out there on the court. And until we can take all the talk and everything that we say in here and apply it to out on the court, it’s useless, it’s basically like talking to the wall.”

***

No. 4: Hawks’ Horford shares goals for career, more — Atlanta fans everywhere are still getting over the news that All-Star big man Al Horford is done for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. But before that bad news hit, Horford was in the midst of another All-Star-type season. He recently sat down with our own Sekou Smith to talk about the Hawks’ offseason, Atlanta’s ability to remain a player in the East, teammate Paul Millsap and more:


VIDEO: Hang Time Blog’s one-on-one conversation with Al Horford

No. 5: Nuggets could save some money on Gallinari — Denver continues to wait for do-it-all forward Danilo Gallinari to return to the lineup. While there’s no timetable on his return, Gallinari is working out more and more as he continues to rehab his knee injury suffered late last season. The Nuggets would no doubt love to see him in the lineup again, but while he’s out, he could potentially save the team from paying some of his salary, writes Christopher Dempsy of The Denver Post:

As Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari continues to work toward a return from a knee injury, his time missed is approaching a level for which the team will get some of his money covered.

The magic number is 41. If Gallinari misses 41 consecutive regular-season games — and this goes back to last season — an NBA insurance policy will pay for part of his salary per game in every contest after that.

Gallinari has missed 40 consecutive regular-season games, dating to the final six games of last season, as he rehabs a left ACL injury. Starting Saturday in the Nuggets’ home game against Orlando, the insurance policy pays for 50 percent of his base salary per game, meaning the Nuggets will get about $61,800 covered each night he does not play until he returns. Gallinari is making more than $10 million this season, the second of a four-year contract.

“I don’t know how close he is or not,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “Obviously he would be a welcomed addition, but I’ll save my excitement for when it gets really, really close (to his return), whenever that is.”

***

No. 4: Hawks’ Horford shares goals for career, more — Atlanta fans everywhere are still getting over the news that All-Star big man Al Horford is done for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. But before that bad news hit, Horford was in the midst of another All-Star-type season. He recently sat down with our own Sekou Smith to talk about the Hawks’ offseason, Atlanta’s ability to remain a player in the East, teammate Paul Millsap and more:


VIDEO: Hang Time Blog’s one-on-one conversation with Al Horford

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After several players were waived on Tuesday afternoon, there are roughly 20 roster spots open league-wide … Magic big man Nikola Vucevic has a concussion and is likely out for a week … The Rockets are reportedly trying to trade forward Donatas Motiejunas … Per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the Nets have received a $5.25 million disabled player exception for Brook Lopez

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: The Jazz’s Derrick Favors gives us a nice in-game demonstration of what the phrase “going up strong” looks like with this two-handed and-one mash on Kevin Durant


VIDEO: Derrick Favors dunks over the Thunder’s Kevin Durant

Heavy Mettle: Losing Deng Steels Bulls


VIDEO: Joakim Noah leads Chicago to a victory against Phoenix

CHICAGO – Joakim Noah took a pass Tuesday night. He took a pass Tuesday morning, too, and then again on Tuesday evening an hour or so before tipoff. The news that his teammate, his friend, his brother Luol Deng had been traded hit Noah hard and he wasn’t ready in the first 24 hours after the deal to invite in the outside world. So no media ops for him.

And yet, for 2 hours 15 minutes against the Phoenix Suns at United Center, Noah spoke loud and clear. Chicago’s emotional center scored 14 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and passed for six assists, a performance good enough to pay tribute to Deng, serve notice to the league about these dismantling Bulls and say pretty much whatever else he wanted it to say.

Considering the funk into which Noah might have gone, the Bulls were grateful he went the direction he did in the 92-87 victory.

“Jo is an emotional guy,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s good. I think it’s also what drives him, so you don’t want to take that away from him. He was fine. He is close to Lu. Any time you’ve played with someone for an extended amount of time, and all the trials and tribulations that you go through, there’s a closeness there.

“He responded. I felt by tonight, he got himself together. He was ready to go. His defense was off-the-charts. Playmaking. He got into the flow of the game. He got us going. He’s one of the leaders fo the team, so I think that’s important.”

There was a gloom at the start Tuesday, the reality and the finality of Deng’s departure hitting home. The Bulls had played plenty of games without the two-time All-Star, but those had owed to injuries, temporary absences vs. the permanence of this one.

Piece by piece, what began as nothing less than a championship-focused season has come undone. Derrick Rose was lost for the season, again. Carlos Boozer was out again Tuesday with a sore knee. Now Deng belongs to Cleveland. This team has weathered all sorts of ailments in recent years but this roster-eating bacteria, in the name of cap space and “financial flexibility,” trumps them all.

“It’s tough. Y’know, we lost our best player, and our leading scorer got traded,” guard Kirk Hinrich said.

Seeing Deng’s empty locker, and no one over there stretching in front of it during pregame, drove home the loss, Hinrich said.

“The guys who’ve been around, they’ve probably experienced something like this,” he said. “Obviously it was a big deal because Lu had been here for so long and had such great relationships with everybody on this team, the organization, the community. He’ll be sorely missed, but I mean, what can you do? We had to move forward.”

Some of the Bulls spoke with Deng after the trade overnight, Monday to Tuesday. Jimmy Butler sounded a little embarrassed when sharing Deng’s comment that he would miss Butler. They mostly joked and rarely had talked so seriously. And then came Tuesday’s game.

“It was weird,” Butler said. “We’re so used to hearing Lu say, ‘Bulls on 3!’ and then counting us out. When he’s not there… “

So who did it instead?

“Me. It was weird,” the third-year swingman said. “But new roles, new leaders. Got to step up.”

The Bulls will hear, and probably already have heard, plenty about building-by-teardown, losing their way into the lottery and hoping – with some of the assets they got in the Cavaliers deal – to start fresh next spring with a couple of guys currently in college and others who’ve yet to attend senior prom.

It’s nothing that plays well in their locker room. There have 49 games left and aren’t inclined to toss away any of them yet.

That might have been part of what was balled up in Noah’s emotions Tuesday, the stuff he didn’t want to let out while letting people in.

“I feel like Jo feels we have a lot to prove still,” Butler said. “People count us out, and Jo’s not someone to go for that – at all. So if people overlook us, Jo’s going to put that game face on and go out there and compete. And produce and play well.”

The acid-reflux Thibodeau must feel each time he thinks of Deng now can be eased by the likes of Noah’s play against the Suns, and the Bulls coming together for a night at the end of a very long day.

By the end, the Bulls’ coach could have been standing in front of a huge U.S. flag as he talked of the challenge and the mettle he’s seen before and needs to see again.

“It’s ‘whatever your circumstances are, make the best of those circumstances,’ ” Thibodeau said. “There’s constant change in this league, whether it’s injuries, trades, free agency, whatever it might be. Then the challenge for the team is to not get distracted with all that other stuff and get locked into what you have to do for your team to be successful.

“That’s what I like about our team. This team has been good a lot of different ways. But they always get up. They always get up.”


VIDEO: Taj Gibson talks about the departure of Luol Deng and the Bulls’ victory