Posts Tagged ‘Nikola Mirotic’

Gasol leads Spain to bronze

Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic were too much for Australia on Sunday (Credit: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports).

Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic combined for 45 points in the win. (Photo credit: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports)

RIO DE JANEIRO — At 36 years old and surrounded by NBA talent, Pau Gasol is still El Rey of Spanish basketball.

Gasol led Spain to its third straight Olympic medal, scoring 31 points (making 12 of his 15 shots) and grabbing 11 rebounds in an incredible bronze medal game against Australia.

After an incredible, back-and-fourth second half (in which the teams combined for 99 points), the game went down to the wire and was decided by a tough foul call on Patty Mills that gave Spain’s Sergio Rodriguez two free throws with 5.4 seconds left.

After a timeout, Australia tried to run a hand-off play for Mills, but Ricky Rubio got his hand on the ball, Australia was never able to get a shot off, and Spain escaped with an 89-88 victory.

Another medal for Spain and Gasol, the clear MVP of this tournament (given how many different guys have stepped up for the U.S. in its run to the gold medal game).

“He’s amazing,” Rubio said of Gasol afterward. “There’s no words to describe the way he dominates FIBA basketball. He’s one of the best ever and that’s why he put Spain on the map. Of course, we’ve had great players around him, but he’s the key of this generation.”

“It’s not only about just his game,” Jose Calderon added. “It’s about leadership. It’s about a lot of things. He’s been great for us forever and he’s still got some more years, I think, on him.”

More years for the national team?

“I really don’t know how the process is going to play out,” Gasol said. “I love playing for my national team. That’s pretty obvious. I have a lot of fun. I feel something special when I play for the national team, something unique. I always said that I’d like to do it as long as I can.

“I’m just enjoying the ride and I’m going to continue to work hard to extend it.”

Rough finish for the Boomers

Australia bounced back after an ugly performance in Friday’s semifinal against Serbia, but its finish is still such a huge disappointment for what looked like a clear medal favorite through pool play and the quarterfinals. Australia has now reached the Olympic semifinals on four occasions and finished fourth each time.

“My two worst games of the tournament were the last two games,” said Andrew Bogut, who fouled out with 7:54 to go in the third quarter on Sunday. “That’s going to eat at me for the next couple of days.”

Mirotic banged up

Nikola Mirotic helped Spain get off to a strong start with eight points in the first quarter. He injured his right knee in a collision with Aron Baynes early in the fourth, but returned after a brief stint on the bench and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.

Afterward, Mirotic said the initial injury scared him “a lot,” saying the collision was “very strong, knees against knees.”

“But it was the last five minutes of the tournament,” he continued. “I didn’t want to miss that opportunity to play. I was hot in that moment too, so I didn’t feel a lot of pain. Right now, I’m feeling hurt. But it’s OK. We won the medal. That’s the most important thing. Hopefully, this is nothing. I need to do some tests now and I expect it’s all good.”

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Team USA one win from gold | Serbia hopes for gold | How James and the Cavs came back from down 3-1

No. 1: Team USA one win from gold —Heading into the 2016 Olympics in Rio, expectations for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team were sky high. And while they may have struggled to reach some of those expectations, and haven’t blown out every opponent along the way, with Friday’s 82-76 win over Spain, Team USA is now in the gold medal game, one win from leaving Rio with their ultimate goal accomplished. Against Spain, with the offense struggling to pull away, it was the defense of DeAndre Jordan that helped Team USA survive and advance. As our own John Schuhmann writes, Jordan has embraced his role with Team USA …

The U.S. offense was never pretty on Friday. It only once scored on more than three straight possessions. Kevin Durant (14 points on 6-for-13 shooting) and Kyrie Irving (13 points on 5-for-9) were held in check. Klay Thompson led the U.S. with 22 points, but had rough moments shooting. After scoring 129 points per 100 possessions through its first six games, the U.S. scored just 82 points on 74 possessions (111 per 100) on Friday.

The second half (37 points on 39 possessions) was particularly ugly. This was not a repeat of the last two gold medal games in which the U.S. beat Spain 118-107 and 107-100.

“It was a different type of game,” Mike Krzyzewski said afterward. “It was a very hard game. It wasn’t easy flowing and both teams had to make big plays.”

Jordan made a lot of them. With the 6-11 center being disruptive on pick-and-rolls and at the rim, a potent Spanish team was held to just three scores on its first 10 possessions, allowing the U.S. to build an early, 14-7 lead that it never gave up. Jordan blocked Nikola Mirotic on Spain’s third possession, deflected a Sergio Llull pass on the next one, and forced Llull into shooting a tough, rainbow foul-line jumper two possessions after that.

“The key of the game was their defense, their athleticism, their size,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “They made our offense get difficult during most possessions.”

Pau Gasol led all scorers with 23 points, but needed 19 shots to get them. Jordan allowed him some open threes, but forced him into tough shots in the paint and a few turnovers.

Every night, somebody else has stepped up for the U.S. Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Paul George have all had their signature games. Though he scored just nine points and made just one of his four free throws, this game belonged to Jordan.

“He’s locked in,” Kyle Lowry said. “He wants this medal. He wants it really bad. I think we all want it and tonight he just led by example. We just feed off his energy.”

That energy came on both ends of the floor. Jordan not only affected Spain’s shots and passes, he helped get his team extra possessions. Jordan was only credited with three offensive rebounds, but got his hands on a couple of others. The U.S. finished with 21 offensive boards and 25 second-chance points.

“His activity sometimes didn’t translate in the stats,” Krzyzewski said, “but it translated into disruptive play or taking away from the continuity that Spain normally has.”

Jordan’s skill set isn’t necessarily a great fit for the international game, which values spacing and perimeter shooting. But his combination of size and athleticism can overwhelm smaller, more ground-bound opponents. And every single opponent is smaller or more ground-bound.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Spanish veteran Juan Carlos Navarro thought he had a clear lane to the basket on a fast break. But Jordan came along and erased Navarro’s shot, his fourth block of the afternoon. And by the end of the game, he had 16 rebounds.

Krzyzewski has shuffled his lineups (both the starting lineup and bench units that get extended run) much more than usual in this tournament. But he’s seems to have found a formula that works. Cousins better complements the defensive perimeter of Lowry, Butler and George, while Jordan fits better on the starting lineup with an offensive backcourt of Irving and Thompson.

As he is with the LA Clippers, he’s the role-playing complement to the stars.

“I have one job on this team and that’s to come out and play with as much energy as I can on both ends of the floor,” Jordan said. “I’m used to doing that. That’s the type of player that I am, so it just comes naturally. Anything I can do for this team to help us advance and keep winning, I’m going to do that. And I take pride in it.”

***

No. 2: Serbia hopes for gold —Team USA’s path to gold still has one major hurdle, as they will play against a streaking Serbia squad on Sunday in the gold medal game. Serbia advanced to the gold medal match yesterday by blowing out Australia 87-61. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Rio, Serbia still has designs on going home with gold …

For the second straight time in a major international tournament, it will be the United States vs. Serbia for the gold medal. And for the second time, Serbia has followed mediocre pool play results with an impressive run in the elimination rounds.

At the 2014 World Cup of Basketball, Serbia went 2-3 in pool play, beating only the two teams – Egypt and Iran – that didn’t advance out of Group A and losing to the other three teams – France, Brazil and Spain – that did. Then it beat Greece (the top seed from Group B), Brazil and France before losing to the U.S. in the final.

In these Olympics, Serbia went 2-3 in pool play, beating only the two teams – Venezuela and China – that didn’t advance out of Group A and losing to the other three teams – Australia, France and USA – that did. And now it has beat Croatia (the top seed from Group B) and Australia to face the U.S., once again, in the final.

On Friday, Serbia never trailed, beating Australia 87-61 in the second semifinal and earning their first Olympic medal in men’s basketball (since the break-up of Yugoslavia). The question now is whether it will be gold or silver.

The U.S. won the ’14 gold medal game by 37 points, but only beat Serbia by three last Friday, allowing Serbia to shoot 52 percent. The U.S. defense has shown improvement since then, but will be tested by Serbia’s passing and the playmaking (and shotmaking) of point guard Milos Teodosic.

“We gave them a pretty good fight,” Serbian big man Miroslav Raduljica said about last week’s meeting, “showed that they’re not unbeatable, and that we can play against them.”

Going to settle for silver?

“No, never,” Raduljica replied. “We are Serbian.”

***

No. 3: How James and the Cavs came back from down 3-1 After engineering a comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, LeBron James has taken some time off this summer. But in this wide-ranging interview with Business Insider, James recalls the Cavs being down 3-1 in the Finals and how he and the Cavs were able to come from behind to win the title …

James: We lost our defensive pressure. Golden State turned up the pressure, and they were able to steal our home-court advantage to go up 3-1.

So I’m sitting at home, recalibrating and thinking about the game. And everyone is kind of down at that point. For me as a leader, I couldn’t allow myself to get in a funk. I just started to try and recalibrate and say, “Listen, we’ve got to go to Golden State for game five. We’ve got to come home anyways. So why not come home and give our fans another game, and give them an opportunity to have a game six?”

And that was my mindset. I was very relaxed going out to Golden State for game five, and obviously we saw what happened in that game. I was extremely confident in my teammates’ abilities throughout game five, and then coming home in game six to our fans, who are ecstatic and crazy as can be.

And then, in game seven, it’s one game. It’s sudden death, and it doesn’t matter what’s going on at that point. I believe in one game, I’m going to take myself every time.

If you just give me one game for it all, I’m going to take it myself. And we were able to do something that’s never been done, like you mentioned, a comeback from 3-1. And to win it on their home floor — it was an amazing feat for our franchise.

Shontell: You told a great story on the Jesse Williams “Open Run” podcast you just launched about how you spent that night of game four. You sent a group text to your troops, and you said — what did you say?

James: We have a group chat throughout the season where we talk about everything, with all the guys. We talk about everything from “Hey, this is what time we’re doing dinner” to “This is what time the bus is” or just mentally preparing for games.

I was sitting at home with my wife, and we we’re watching Eddie Murphy‘s stand-up comedy [“Raw”] because I wanted to get my mind off the game and bring some more joy into the room. And then I sent a group chat text to my guys, saying, “OK, listen: It doesn’t matter what just happened. And I know we’re all down about it, but in order for us to accomplish what no one believes we can do, we have to refocus and we have to re-lock in. You guys do your part, and I promise you, as the leader of the team, I won’t let you down. Just follow my lead.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol thinks Spain may have squandered their best chance for Olympic gold … Dwyane Wade says he’s always embraced being the underdog … Will the All-Star Game in New Orleans help Anthony Davis find his mojo? … Randy Foye wants to give back this season in Brooklyn … The Denver Nuggets have reportedly agreed to a deal with free agent Nate WoltersJames Harden was at Old Trafford yesterday for Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Southampton …

Spain reaches semifinals, ends Parker’s national team career

RIO DE JANEIRO — From an 0-2 start to a berth in the semifinals, Spain has turned into, maybe, the best team in the Olympic Men’s Basketball tournament. The European champs are certainly the best defensive team at this point.

A French team that scored 97 points against the United States on Sunday was held to just 67 points on 39 percent shooting in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Spain rolled into the semis and a potential matchup with the U.S. with a 25-point victory over their European rivals.

To get the rematch of the last two gold medal games, the U.S. will need to beat Argentina Wednesday night. Spain (4-2) took care of business by outscoring France 50-33 over the middle two quarters.

Pau Gasol took a back seat in the offense and looked to get his teammates going early. The strategy worked and some pretty ball movement led to an open Nikola Mirotic corner 3-pointer that gave Spain the lead for good at 9-8. France was within three at the end of the first quarter, but the Knicks’ Willy Hernangomez scored six points on an 8-1 Spain run to start the second.

Mirotic had 16 points by halftime. He was matched up with Boris Diaw most of the afternoon, but switches allowed him to score inside against Nicolas Batum or drive around Rudy Gobert. And the passing of Spain’s guards allowed him to consistently get open beyond the arc.

“I felt like Spain was the Spurs tonight,” Tony Parker said afterward, “and I was on the other side.”

The game marked the end of Parker’s national team career.

“Tony Parker,” French coach Vincent Collet said, “is the best French player for ever.”

Mirotic finished with a game-high 23 points, shooting 5-for-8 from 3-point range.

“When he learns when to shoot and when to play for the team,” Ricky Rubio said of Mirotic, “it’s unstoppable. He had an amazing game today. He was the key. But not just that, I think he’s really learning to be important on defense too.”

France couldn’t get things going offensively like it did against the United States on Sunday. Parker scored 14 points on 4-for-9 shooting, but Batum (0 points, 0-for-2) was invisible on offense. Credit the Spain defense, which has allowed less than 92 points per 100 possessions in its four games against teams that made the quarterfinals.

“We didn’t lose control at any moment,” Rubio said about his team’s recovery from its 0-2 start, “even though our situation wasn’t the best. We played as a team. Nobody stepped up as an individual and everybody stepped up as a teammate.”

Group B gets crazy

RIO DE JANEIRO — Group B in the Olympic Men’s Basketball tournament promised to be, with five teams with medal hopes and only four tickets to the quarterfinals, the more interesting of the two groups. And it has already been more interesting that we could have imagined. Through four days of action, every team in Group B has at least one win and one loss.

And on a day where Spain may have righted its ship and two rivals produced an instant classic, Nigeria threw another wrinkle in the standings with an upset of Croatia. And with one more day to go, every team is still alive.

Argentina wins double-OT classic

Andres Nocioni is 36 years old and hasn’t played in the NBA in four years. But put “El Chapu” in an Argentina uniform for the final time (we think), and he can do special things.

On Saturday afternoon, Nocioni played more than 47 minutes and scored 37 points (the high for the Olympics thus far) in Argentina’s 111-107, double-overtime victory over Brazil. The atmosphere, with the two South American rivals facing off in Brazil’s gym, was incredible. The stakes were high and the game delivered the goods.

“No matter what sport or whatever’s going on, if it’s Brazil against Argentina, it’s going to be a battle,” incoming Spurs rookie Patricio Garino (who had several key steals) said afterward. “The atmosphere was unbelievable. Playing in this kind of setting is going to be memories for life.”

Facundu Campazzo added 33 points and 11 assists for Argentina, but the biggest play of the game was an offensive rebound from the 5-11 point guard off a Manu Ginobili miss in the final seconds of regulation. With Argentina down three, Campazzo found Nocioni, whose step-back three tied the game with 3.9 seconds left.

Brazil couldn’t get a good shot off at the end of regulation, and Ginobili’s runner to win was off the mark at the end of the first overtime. Campazzo started the second OT off with two threes and Argentina withstood a big flurry from Leandro Barbosa to pull out the win, with Ginobili securing the game with another critical offensive rebound in the final seconds.

“What we did today was big, everybody, because we fight, we play hard, and we try to compete,” Nocioni said. “We lost control of the game sometimes, but always, we try to keep going, keep going.”

Nene (24 points, 11 rebounds) had a big game for Brazil, but the hosts are facing a disappointing scenario if they don’t qualify for the quarterfinals. They looked to be in good shape after beating Spain in their second game, but have come up just short in each of their other three, having lost them by a total of just 14 points.

Twelve years after they won it all in Athens, Argentina’s golden generation (with some help from a 25-year-old point guard) is still alive and will be in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. No matter what happens from now on, it’s already been a fun last ride … if it has indeed the last ride.

“It was the last ride four years ago,” Nocioni said with a laugh. “Maybe, you never know, maybe we’re coming back in Tokyo.”

Spain looks strong again

After losing to Croatia and Brazil and struggling to pull away against Nigeria, Spain (2-2) played its best game on Saturday night, thumping previously unbeaten Lithuania 109-59. Because they don’t have the tiebreaker vs. Brazil, Spain’s elimination games began Saturday. And they got the first one they needed to stay alive.

“We had two finals,” Ricky Rubio said afterward. “Today we came to play, and Monday, it’s another final.”

Pau Gasol (23 points, five rebounds, five assists, two blocks, 5-for-5 from 3-point range) dominated his matchup with Jonas Valanciunas (0-for-6). Rubio (3-for-4 from 3-point range) finally hit a few jumpers and kept Lithuania on its heels defensively. And Nikola Mirotic (17 points, 8-for-11 shooting) was strong inside and out.

Spain is missing Marc Gasol, but still could be the second best team in the tournament when it’s all said and done. Of course, it could also be going home early if it doesn’t beat Argentina on Monday.

“We were trying to find our DNA out there [in the first two games], and I think we found it [Saturday],” Rubio said. “We haven’t done anything special yet, but I think we’re on the right track.”

Nigeria stays alive

Nigeria was, seemingly, the one team in Group B that didn’t have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals. But suddenly, it’s still alive with a stunning, 90-76 victory over Croatia in Saturday’s late game. The 3-point shooting tells the story. Nigeria was 17-for-36 from beyond the arc, while Croatia was 6-for-28.

Croatia has quality wins over Spain and Brazil and could have clinched a spot in the quarterfinals with a win Saturday. But it’s future is now in some doubt.

Bottom line from Group B: Argentina (3-1) and Lithuania (3-1) are in the quarterfinals, while Spain (2-2) and Croatia (2-2) control their own destiny. Brazil (1-3) and Nigeria (1-3) need help.

Big games Monday

And here’s a rundown of Monday’s slate …

  • Brazil (1-3) vs. Nigeria (1-3) – 1:15 p.m. ET – The winner of this game is still alive, while the loser is eliminated. A Brazil win also means that Croatia clinches a spot in the quarterfinals.
  • Argentina (3-1) vs. Spain (2-2) – 6 p.m. ET – If Brazil wins the first game, Spain needs to win to stay alive, because it will have lost to the two teams (Brazil and Croatia) it could possibly be tied with at 2-3.
  • Croatia (2-2) vs. Lithuania (3-1) – 9:30 p.m. ET – Lithuania clinches the top seed in Group B with a win. Croatia needs to win to stay alive if Nigeria wins the first game.

If two teams are tied, the tiebreaker is head-to-head. So Brazil and Croatia both have the tiebreaker over Spain.

If multiple teams are tied, the tiebreaker goes to the team with the best record in games between those teams. If that’s even — say Croatia, Nigeria and Spain all tie at 2-3 — it comes down to point differential in games between those teams. In the aforementioned scenario, Spain (plus-7) would finish third, Nigeria (plus-5) would finish fourth, and Croatia (minus-12) would be eliminated.

If Spain beat Argentina and Croatia beat Lithuania, we would have a four-way tie at 3-2 for first place. Stay tuned …

Group A wraps Sunday

Group A is much more easier to figure out. The U.S. needs to beat France (1:15 ET) to clinch first place, because a loss could produce (if Australia beats Venezuela) a three-way tie between Australia, France and the U.S. In that case, point differential in the games between the three teams (who would all be 1-1 within the group) would determine the seeds. Australia beat France by 21, while the U.S. only beat Australia by 10, so a France win on Sunday would put Australia in first place and drop the U.S. to second (or third if it lost by 16 or more).

If the U.S. beats France, Australia is second (no matter its result) and France is third. Venezuela, meanwhile, can stay alive with a win over Australia (6 p.m. ET), but Serbia would take fourth (and eliminate Venezuela) with a win over China in the late game (9:30 p.m. ET).

Saric seals Croatia’s upset of Spain

RIO DE JANEIRO — In the Men’s Basketball competition at the Olympics, Group B is the tougher group, with five good teams, one that won’t make the quarterfinals. And the group’s depth and quality was on display in its first day of action, as Croatia upset Spain, 72-70 on Sunday night.

Incoming Sixers rookie Dario Saric, who had a quiet night statistically (five points, seven rebounds, five assists, 1-for-7 shooting), sealed the game by blocking a short jump hook from the Spurs’ Pau Gasol at the buzzer.

“It’s a gift for the whole team,” Saric said of the final play. “That block was like cherry on the cake, because the team fought all the time.”

Spain led by as many as 10 points late in the first quarter and by as many as 13 early in the third. But twice, Croatia was able to chip away at the lead when Gasol went to the bench, a symptom of the absences of bigs Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

The Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic hit two huge shots in the last five minutes and led Croatia with 23 points. Gasol led all scorers with 26 points on 8-for-13 shooting, but fouled Bogdanovic on a 3-pointer on a critical play late.

The Wolves’ Ricky Rubio was on the bench for most of the fourth quarter, as the Sixers’ Sergio Rodriguez and Rockets’ draft-stash Sergio Llull finished the game in the backcourt. But both of those guys had costly turnovers down the stretch, with Rodriguez also missing two important 3-point attempts when Gasol was double-teamed in the post.

Spain has lost early in big tournaments before. In the 2012 Olympics, it lost to both Russia and Brazil in pool play before recovering to scare the U.S. in the gold medal game. And in last year’s Eurobasket, Spain lost its first game to Serbia and its third game to Italy before going on to win the tournament.

“This year, hopefully, it’s going to be the same,” the Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic said after scoring 19 points in the loss. “We started [last year with a loss], but most important is how you finish. I trust in this team and I know that we’re going to play much better next game.”

Lithuania survives vs. Brazil

The first game of the day was almost as much of a thriller, though it looked nothing like one early on. Lithuania led by 29 at halftime and by as many as 30 midway through the third, but Brazil cut the lead to 18 by the end of the period and was within four with just over two minutes to go.

The home crowd was loud, chanting “We believe!” in Portuguese. But incoming Thunder rookie Domantas Sabonis sealed the win for Lithuania with a tough, reverse and-one off a pick-and-roll feed from Renaldas Seibutis. Sabonis finished with 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting, while incoming Knicks rookie Mindaugas Kuzminskas added eight points and five rebounds in Lithuania’s 82-76 win.

Jonas Valanciunas (six points, three boards) had a pretty quiet afternoon, but it was a team effort as Lithuania shot 21-for-29 (6-for-9 from 3-point range) in the first half. Brazil’s starting backcourt of Marcelo Huertas (Lakers) and Alex Garcia couldn’t keep Lithuania out of the paint and played a total of 23 seconds (all from Garcia) in the second half.

With Group B so competitive, the first day of action was huge for Croatia and tough for the hosts. If things hold to form, the final spot in the quarterfinals could come down to a game between rivals Argentina and Brazil, who play on Saturday. But with what happened on Sunday, it’s probably best not to look too far ahead.

Argentina takes care of business

In Sunday’s final game, Argentina handled its business against Nigeria, Group B’s weakest team. Luis Scola and Manu Ginobili combined to score the game’s first nine points and Argentina led by as many as 29 on its way to a 94-66 victory.

Facundo Campazzo led five Argentina players in double-figures with 19 points. Incoming Spurs rookie Patricio Garino had 15 points on just six shots, adding six rebounds.

Morning Shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: Recap Saturday night’s eight-game slate

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jimmy Butler returns | Beal injured | Mohammed: “I’m back” | Krause retires

No. 1: Jimmy Butler returns After missing ten games with a knee injury — during which his Chicago Bulls posted a 3-7 record — Jimmy Butler returned to action last night against the Houston Rockets. Butler picked up where he left off, as the Bulls got a much-needed win. As ESPN’s Nick Friedell writes, for a Bulls team clinging to postseason hopes, Butler’s return should be crucial…

Jimmy Butler didn’t miss a beat in the box score during Saturday’s much-needed 108-100 win over the Houston Rockets. After missing a month because of a left knee strain, the All-Star swingman racked up 24 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists to help the Chicago Bulls snap a four-game losing streak. Butler did everything the Bulls needed him to do. He was solid defensively while guarding James Harden, and he gave the Bulls the scoring punch they’ve been lacking without him. But after the game ended, the proud 26-year-old knew there was something missing from his game that wouldn’t appear within the gaudy numbers.

“I need to get in there and run some laps,” Butler said. “I’m out of shape.”

It didn’t matter that Butler was winded. He gave the Bulls what he had when they needed a win to right their dwindling season. With Butler back and Nikola Mirotic reappearing after missing over a month because of complications related to an appendectomy, the Bulls finally appeared almost whole in a season in which their starting five of Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Butler had yet to play a game together all season. It’s no wonder why Gasol called Butler’s and Mirotic’s presence the lineup “critical.” Butler set an example early that the rest of his teammates followed.

“Jimmy makes a huge impact on both ends of the floor,” Gasol said. “Especially on the defensive end. His physicality and his activity and energy make a big difference because it kind of picks everybody up as well and sets a tone for the rest of the guys.”

Aside from Butler’s return, the key for the Bulls is that they found a team in the Rockets that’s even more dysfunctional than they are. Watching the Rockets make mistake after mistake was similar to watching the way the Bulls have played many times during the season. The teams combined for 43 turnovers, 25 of which came from the Bulls.

That’s why any optimism coming from the Bulls’ locker room has to be tempered by the fact that Chicago beat a team even more underwhelming than itself. The good news for Fred Hoiberg‘s beleaguered group: With 21 games left, Butler has the ability to serve as a stabilizer for a team that still talks about making a push into the playoffs. Butler’s return gives the Bulls something they haven’t had much of in weeks — hope.

“It’s huge,” Rose said of Butler’s return. “Whenever he’s got the ball, you got to stick both of us. It’s hard to pay attention to both of us when we’re on the court. And we get to catch the ball with a live dribble so that helps the team out a lot.”

***

No. 2: Beal injured — Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal has consistently been counted among the NBA’s most promising young players. For Beal, though, injuries have seemed to consistently hinder him from taking that next step. After breaking his nose in January, Beal had been playing with a protective face mask. But last night, after finally being able to take off the mask, Beal suffered a pelvis injury. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, for a Wizards team fighting for a playoff berth, a healthy Beal is necessary…

He helped the Wizards record 64 first-half points in the crucial matchup between teams vying for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Then the evening went askew.

The fourth-year sharpshooter exited with 6 minutes 17 seconds left in third quarter of the Wizards’ gut-wrenching 100-99 loss, after falling hard on his right hip when he collided with Pacers big man Myles Turner at the basket. Beal remained on the floor in agony for a couple minutes and needed assistance walking off to the locker room.

Beal, 22, was diagnosed with a sprained pelvis and didn’t return. He declined to speak to the media after the game and the team didn’t have an update on his status. Beal has missed 21 games this season because a shoulder injury, a stress reaction in his right fibula and a concussion.

Washington’s second-leading scorer, Beal is expected to travel with the team to Portland Monday for Washington’s three-game road trip, but whether he will play Tuesday against the Trail Blazers is uncertain. Garrett Temple would return to the starting lineup if Beal is ruled out. Temple tallied 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 26 minutes Saturday, shooting 24.6 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from three-point range. He has also shot 58.3 percent from the free throw line in his 10 starts since the break.

Gary Neal missed his 12th straight game Saturday with a right leg injury that he described as neurological. But the team, he said, was still unsure exactly what is wrong.

The firepower Washington holds with Beal in the starting lineup was evident Saturday as the Wizards posted 37 points in the first quarter. Beal finished 12 points on 5 of 13 shooting in 24 minutes before departing.

“We had gotten off to such slow starts the last couple games, I think we were down 12 in the first quarter in Minnesota,” Coach Randy Wittman said, referring to the Wizards’ win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. “Just trying to get a better start and we did.”

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No. 3: Mohammed: “I’m back” — The Oklahoma City Thunder had an open roster spot, and to fill that open slot, they went after NBA veteran Nazr Mohammed, who they had to lure out of what he called “semi-retirement.” In a first-person piece written by Mohammed, he explains why he returned, and what he thinks his role will be with the Thunder…

It’s official. “I’m back.” I’ve always wanted to say that…like I’m MJ or something LOL. I’m officially back in an NBA jersey, and I could not be more excited for this opportunity.

You may not have noticed that I have been in what I call semi-retirement. And by the way, I’ve been calling it semi-retirement for two reasons. The first is that a 37-year-old professional athlete doesn’t really retire; we just transition to our next careers. The second reason being that in pro sports, most of us actually “get retired,” either because the phone is no longer ringing for your services or you’re no longer able to accept playing for just any team. As a young player, your only desire is to be in the NBA. As you get older, your desire is to play for certain organizations with certain circumstances, making it a little tougher to find the right fit. Mine was a combination of all of the above. Most of the teams that I had interest in didn’t need my services, and I didn’t have the desire to go just anywhere. And some teams just didn’t want me.

With all that being said – DRUMROLL PLEASE – I am now a proud member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the very team I competed for a Championship with in 2012. I was days away from turning “semi-retirement” into full retirement when I received word from Sam Presti that they had interest in me returning to OKC as a player. That quickly changed the course of my plans and forced me to do some real soul-searching to see if this was something my family and I wanted.

I believe in staying prepared for the opportunities that I think I want, whether they come to fruition or not. You can do no greater disservice to yourself than to secretly want something, but then be unprepared if the opportunity presents itself. I stayed prepared, but when I didn’t foresee any viable opportunities coming my way during “buyout season,” I contemplated shutting down my court workouts and facing the reality that my life as a basketball player was over. I started seriously considering accepting and starting one of my post-career opportunities. I even agreed with Debbie Spander of Wasserman Media Group to represent me if I chose to pursue broadcasting as my next career. But my agent, Michael Higgins, suggested that I give it a few more days to evaluate the landscape.

Like I said, I had a short list of teams that I would undoubtedly come out of semi-retirement for. Of course OKC was on my short list, which consisted mostly of teams I played for in the past. When I spoke to the Thunder, their first question was, “How does your body feel?” Anybody who follows me on social media knows that I’m probably a little addicted to my workouts. I’ve kept up my same training regimen (court work three to five times a week, conditioning, and lifting weights) with my guys at Accelerate Basketball, so I knew I was prepared physically. They happen to train Steph Curry too, so you know my jumper is wet right now LOL! After being a part of two NBA lockouts, I’m the master of staying prepared even when I don’t know when my season will start LOL. But the first thing I thought about was my family and whether or not they could handle me being away for the next few months when we were just getting acclimated to a new city and our new schedule (which had me as a big part of it for the first time in my kids’ lives). I knew I needed to talk to them before making a final decision. Regardless, I was shocked, flattered and excited for an opportunity to go into a comfortable situation.

I brought the offer to my wife and kids to see how they felt. My oldest son (10) is an OKC fan, so he was excited. And I better add that he’s a Steph Curry and Jimmy Butler fan too (he’d be mad if I didn’t include that!). My oldest daughter (13) was almost giddy with excitement for me. I’m starting to think they don’t love having me around, but I’ll save that for another blog down the road LOL. I also have a younger daughter (6), and she was very happy, although I’m not sure she truly grasps time and how long I will be gone. My wife, who knows how much basketball has meant to me, was very supportive. We’ve experienced mid-year trades and things like this before, so we know how to handle it. The only difference now is that the kids are older, and their schedules are a little more hectic with school, sports, practices, tournaments, etc. Now with me not being able to help out with that, more is on my wife’s plate. But we’ll figure it out. Whenever we get a day off, I’ll probably try to fly home, even if I just get to see the family for a few hours. We’ll do a lot of FaceTiming. When their schedule permits, they’ll be flying to OKC. We’ll make it work.

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No. 4: Krause retires — The Warriors have been trying to put together the greatest regular season in NBA history, topping the 72-10 record of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. That Bulls team was constructed by general manager Jerry Krause, who this week announced he was retiring from scouting at the age of 76. K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune caught up with Krause and heard some great stories, particularly about Michael Jordan and those Bulls…

Nicknamed “The Sleuth,” Krause’s second stint leading the Bulls didn’t start promisingly either despite inheriting Michael Jordan, whom Rod Thorn had drafted.

In Stan Albeck, he whiffed on his first coaching hire. And Jordan broke a bone in his left foot in the third game of the 1985-86 season, leading to the first of many spats between him and Krause when Jordan wanted to play sooner than he was ready. Krause, Jerry Reinsdorf and doctors ordered a more conservative approach.

“Do I regret that I had not a great relationship with him? You know what? We won a lot of (expletive) games,” Krause said. “Right or wrong, when I took that job I thought the worst thing I could do is kiss that guy’s (rear). We’d argue. But I remember about two years after I traded Charles (Oakley) for Bill (Cartwright). He and Charles were as tight as can be. He called over to me at practice and said, ‘That trade you made was a pretty damn good trade.’ I just looked at him and said, ‘Thank you.'”

Krause replaced Albeck with Doug Collins, a surprising hire given Collins had no coaching experience. It worked, and, augmented by the dominant 1987 draft that netted Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, the Bulls kept knocking on the Pistons’ door.

When they lost to Detroit in six games in the 1989 Eastern Conference finals, Krause and Reinsdorf stunningly replaced Collins with Phil Jackson. Krause had hired Jackson as an assistant coach — one of his two Hall of Fame coaching hires along with Tex Winter — out of relative obscurity from the Continental Basketball Association.

“Everyone thought I was nuts,” Krause said. “I had a feeling about Phil. He has an amazing ability to relate to players.”

Jackson’s first season produced more heartbreak, a seven-game loss to the Pistons in the 1990 Eastern finals. Two days later, Krause said he walked into the Berto Center and almost the entire team was there, working with strength and conditioning coach Al Vermeil.

“I knew right then that we weren’t going to lose to the Pistons again,” Krause said.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James passed Tim Duncan to move into 14th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list … Eric Gordon broke his right ring finger for the second time since January … Manu Ginobili returned from injury and scored a season-high 22 points, as the Spurs went to 30-0 at home … The Phoenix Suns are reportedly targeting Chase Budinger … While it’s not a full update on his status, Chris Bosh says he’s feeling goodChris Andersen says he’ll always remember his time in Miami … During a concert in Oakland this weekend, Prince gave a shoutout to Steph Curry

Morning shootaround — Feb. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cufrry blisters Wizards for 51 | Nowitzki disagrees with Abdul-Jabbar’s assessment | Report: Rockets unlikely to deal Howard | Report: Dunleavy to return Saturday | Caldwell-Pope injured vs. Celtics

No. 1: Curry breaks out of his ‘slump’, torches Wizards — Entering last night’s road game against the Washington Wizards, reigning MVP Stephen Curry had 21 games of 30 points or more, but hadn’t broken the 30-point barrier in three games. Is that considered a slump when you’re averaging close to 30 points per game in a season? Who knows. What is certain is Curry showed he hasn’t lost his touch, abusing the Wizards for 51 points and 11 3-pointers (one off tying the NBA single-game record) writes, Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Stephen Curry just kind of left this hanging out there: “Maybe next time.”

That’s what he said after he made eight three-pointers in three quarters against the Lakers on Jan. 14, falling four shy of Kobe Bryant’s and Donyell Marshall’s single-game record.

His comment seemed innocuous until “next time” arrived.

On Wednesday at the Verizon Center, the arc opened up enough for Curry to hoist 16 three-point attempts, and because he often made the rim look the size of a hula hoop, he strutted away with 11 three-pointers in a 134-121 victory over the Wizards in front of a national TV audience.

“I missed one too many,” Curry joked. “At the end of the game, I knew I was within reach, and I was kind of searching, without trying to force it. You can’t mess around with the basketball gods, trying to chase records, if the game doesn’t call for it.”

If averaging 16.7 points on 37.9 percent three-point shooting in his previous three games constituted a slump for the MVP, his 51-point game — giving him four 50-point performances in his career — certainly constitutes a slump breaker.

“I didn’t know Steph was in a slump,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “Steph is never in a slump. He was just scintillating tonight.”

“I said, ‘Here he goes,’” interim head coach Don Newman said of Curry’s fast start. “I knew it, because that’s what they usually do. I mean, they come out and they just want to kill you.”

Curry thrilled the crowd, then his bench, and finally himself with a flurry of three-pointers in the first quarter. The fans got louder and louder as he made his first four three-point shots. Andre Iguodala bowed to him from the scorer’s table when he knocked down No. 5, and Curry didn’t really know how to react act following his sixth.

Curry swiped a dribble from Wall in the backcourt and corralled the ball about 25 feet from the rim on the right wing. Why not launch it? He tracked the arc of the ball like a baseball player enjoying a towering home run from the batter’s box, and then started spinning into a happy dance.

He finished the first quarter with 25 points — his seventh 20-point quarter of the season. He made 7 of 8 three-point attempts and was well on his way to his single-season record of 10 games with at least eight three-pointers. George McCloud previously held the record with six such games.

“The shots that you know feel good, they go in, and the shots that you think, ‘Oh, that’s off,’ they go in,” Curry said. “It’s a fun feeling, and you want to ride it until you can’t anymore.”

“We watch it on TV every day, and you’re like, ‘Ah, it’s not like that,’” Washington forward Otto Porter said. “But when he does it against you, it’s eye-opening for you.”

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Appendectomy latest dip in Mirotic’s up-and-down season for Bulls


Maddeningly inconsistent and longer on potential than production, Nikola Mirotic had been something of a poster boy for the Chicago Bulls this season.

That dubious status only deepened Wednesday when the second-year forward was diagnosed with acute appendicitis and underwent an appendectomy at Rush University Medical Center. Now one of just three Bulls players to have appeared in every game will be out at least through the All-Star break, by team estimate, missing three weeks and at least eight games.

Mirotic joins Joakim Noah as a big man sidelined from Chicago’s rotation. Noah had season-ending surgery Jan. 19 on his dislocated left shoulder and, as an unrestricted free agent this summer whose game didn’t mesh well with new coach Fred Hoiberg‘s system, might have played his final game in a Bulls uniform.

Mirotic’s layoff won’t be nearly that extended and, beyond his contract that runs through 2016-17, he is highly valued by Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson. As with Hoiberg himself, they remain convinced of the 6-foot-10 Mirotic’s value as a “stretch four” in the newly installed space-and-pace system.

Still, his absence up to or through the Feb. 18 league trading deadline takes the Bulls out of any market their once-crowded frontcourt might have provided. And it isn’t likely to serve as a positive for Mirotic in what had been a rocky season NBA season.

“I have to find a way that I can play maybe 10 games good [in a row],” Mirotic told NBA.com earlier this week. “I try to do something every day good.

“Sometimes I have really good feelings before the game. What I should do when I warm up. But after the game [starts], it’s different. I know the first minutes of the game are really important for me. But sometimes when I’m missing those shots, I’m changing my game.That can’t happen. I have to stay focused, you know.”

Mirotic, 24, performed well in his two most recent appearances. He scored 17 points Saturday in the Bulls’ victory at Cleveland, then followed up with 15 points and eight rebounds in the loss to Miami Monday at United Center.

It wasn’t quite the impact the native of Montenegro had last March, when he averaged 20.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.3 free throw attempts, serving as a go-to guy in the fourth quarter for then-coach Tom Thibodeau and basically earning his second-place finish in NBA Rookie of the Year balloting.

But being back on the bench after 31 starts, and being back at power forward after an unsatisfying-all-around run of 13 games at small forward, appeared to suit Mirotic. And give him something to build from, until his unexpected surgery Wednesday.

Now, while his teammates hit the road for a seven-game trip that runs through Feb. 8, Mirotic will be recuperating at home near Chicago’s lakefront with wife Nina and 7-month-old son Alexsej. His return date isn’t known yet, but the Bulls have 30 games after the break in which Mirotic will be trying to find and maintain success, stirring some March echoes.

“If I did this in my rookie season, of course I can do it again,” Mirotic told NBA.com. “But I don’t want to make any more pressure on my head. I need a little more to enjoy the game. Sometimes I’m a little hard on myself, but that’s just normal. You know you can do things better.”

One Team, One Stat: The Thibs Effect


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Chicago Bulls

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Chicago Bulls, who continued to do one thing really well defensively.

The stat

20151025_chi_rest_def

The context

20151025_chi_basicsFor the second time in Tom Thibodeau‘s five seasons as head coach, the Bulls were the best in the NBA at defending the easiest shots on the floor. League-wide, restricted-area shots yielded 1.20 points per attempt last season. Against the Bulls though, that number was just 1.12 points per shot.

Among 98 players who defended at least 250 shots at the rim last season, Taj Gibson (45.5 percent, ninth) and Pau Gasol (48.0 percent, 22nd) both ranked in the top 25 in opponent field goal percentage there.

The Bulls didn’t just defend shots at the rim well, they were also above average in regard to preventing them. And they were the best in the league at forcing mid-range shots (31 percent of their opponents’ shots came from between the paint and the 3-point line), the least efficient looks on the floor. That comes, in part, from being the best at keeping side pick-and-rolls from getting to the middle.

In all five of Thibodeau’s seasons in Chicago, his team ranked in the top five in effective field goal percentage defense. And keeping your opponents to a low effective field goal percentage is the most important thing you can do defensively.

But the Bulls fell out of the top five in overall defensive efficiency last season for the first time in Thibodeau’s tenure, because they ranked 29th in forcing turnovers and didn’t rebound as well as they had in the past.

20151025_chi_tt_defense

New coach Fred Hoiberg has put in a new offense and could go with a starting frontline of Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol for additional floor spacing. But while there’s potential for an improved offense, there’s also potential for more regression on defense. Mirotic ranked as one of 10 worst rim protectors among those 98 who defended at least 250 shots at the basket last season.

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

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Warriors offer Barnes $64 million extension | Wall, Wizards get jump start on training camp | Video analyst provided boost for Spain at EuroBasket

No. 1: Report: Warriors offer Barnes $64 million extension — The Golden State Warriors don’t want Harrison Barnes in the free agent pool next summer. They’ve offered Barnes a $64 million extension, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, to make sure another member of the core group of their championship roster remains in the fold. More from Yahoo!:

The $16 million annual offer wasn’t accepted, but appears to be a starting point in talks that could last until the Oct. 31 deadline for rookie extensions.

The Warriors are trying to prevent Barnes from reaching restricted free agency in July 2016, when a rising salary cap and scores of teams with financial flexibility will couple with Barnes’ burgeoning talent and potential to make him a significant target on the market.

As a member of the 2012 NBA draft class, Barnes is eligible for his rookie contract extension. Without an agreement by Oct. 31, Barnes would become a restricted free agent next summer. Golden State would be able to match any offer sheet for Barnes and re-sign him.

The offer of $16 million per year annually – comparable to teammate Draymond Green‘s five-year, $82.5 million extension this summer – had been negotiated by Barnes’ former agent, Jeff Wechsler. After that initial offer, Wechsler countered with a figure north of $16 million annually before he and Barnes parted ways, league sources said. Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports is representing Barnes now.

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