Posts Tagged ‘Taj Gibson’

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:

Sixth Man Of the Year: Jamal Crawford

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jamal Crawford has made a strong case for Sixth Man of the Year

There came a point this season where Jamal Crawford was starting so many games as an injury fill-in that it seemed impossible he’d be eligible to make another run at the Kia Sixth Man of the Year award.

He won it in 2010 with Atlanta and he thought he should have won it last season with the Clippers. Instead J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks — remember him? — took the prize. This season, the Clippers wouldn’t be in control of the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed and in line to nab the No. 2 seed with a bit of help (an Oklahoma City loss) before tonight’s season finale at Portland (10:30 p.m., ET, ESPN).

Whether Crawford was coming off the bench, where he’s averaged 17.2 ppg and 3.1 apg, or putting up 20.6 ppg and 3.3 apg in 23 games as a starter in place with either J.J. Redick or Chris Paul or both out, Crawford’s playmaking and shot-making have been invaluable. The lone blemish on his resume is the left calf injury that kept him out of all but eight games since the end of February.

Two games before the calf injury occurred on Feb. 26, Crawford scored 36 points in 40 minutes as a starter to help the Clippers win at Oklahoma City. It was his 11th game of 25 points or more and fourth of 30 points or more. Since, he’s made it five with 31 points in 35 minutes off the bench on March 26 at New Orleans.

“I don’t want to toot my own horn,” Crawford told NBA.com after that Thunder game. “I think I’ve been a professional, honestly. Starting, coming off the bench, being ready at all times, I pride myself on that.”

Crawford certainly faces stiff competition. Candidates include San Antonio’s resurgent Manu Ginobili, Chicago’s rugged Taj Gibson, Phoenix’s Markieff Morris, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Nick Young, Oklahoma City’s Reggie Jackson and even Dallas’ Vince Carter.

Yet none electrify a game and their team with scoring outbursts quite the way Crawford can. Boasting one of the game’s great handles, the 14th-year guard can still live up to his nickname and Twitter handle, @JCrossover, defying foes with tremendous moves off the bounce to get to the rim. He splashes 3-pointers with a rainbow release from virtually any distance, connecting on the 3-ball at a 36.2 percent clip.

His 18.4 scoring average, significantly higher than any of the other candidates, would rank as the third-highest by a Sixth Man of the Year Award winner in the last 20 years behind only Jason Terry (19.6 in 2009 with Dallas) and Ginobili (19.5 in 2008). Crawford would become the oldest player to win the award and he’d join Kevin McHale, Ricky Pierce and Detlef Schrempf as two-time winners.

“Growing up, it wasn’t like I wanted to be a sixth man,” Crawford recently told Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN Los Angeles. “It only happened because I got to this point where I just wanted to win more than anything. When you bring one of your top scorers, your top players off the bench, it really gives your team balance.”

The contenders

Manu Ginobili, Spurs – A year ago it seemed the Argentine might have come to the end of his rope after a glorious NBA and international run. He looked slow and out of sorts, particularly in the NBA Finals. But he came back to the Spurs, 36 years of age, and put together an inspiring bounce-back season, averaging 12.4 ppg, 4.3 apg and 3.0 mpg in 22.8 mpg.

Taj Gibson, Bulls – There should be an award for the entire Bulls team, maybe the Perseverance Award or something. Gibson continues to get better and often pushed Carlos Boozer off the floor in the fourth quarter. His larger role pushed his minutes per game up by five and he responded with 13.1 ppg, a five-point increase from last season, and 6.8 rpg, up 1.5.

Markieff Morris, Suns – Also a Most Improved Player of the Year candidate, averaging career-highs by a wide margin with 13.8 ppg and 6.0 rpg. He’s transformed himself into a dangerous mid-range shooter, making 48.6 percent of his shots, up from 40.7 percent last season and 39.9 percent as a rookie. Morris was vital to the Suns’ 47 wins with one game to go.

Reggie Jackson, Thunder – He got his training on the fly during the 2013 postseason. Since then, he’s provided the Thunder with stability and scoring off the bench as well as in the starting lineup during Russell Westbrook‘s absences. Jackson is averaging 13.1 ppg, fourth on the Thunder, 4.2 apg and 3.9 rpg in 28.5 mpg. He averaged 5.3 ppg and 14.2 mpg last season.

Vince Carter, Mavericks – Carter has kept himself in tip-top physical condition and, at 39.5 percent, has transformed himself into a dangerous 3-pointer shooter. No player in the league has come off the bench and dropped more than Carter’s 145. He’s played in all but one game this season, averaging 12.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg and 2.7 apg in 24.3 mpg.

Nick Young, Lakers – Swaggy P had his swaggy moments, like celebrating a 3-pointer that didn’t drop, but the L.A.-born sixth man was mostly money for the injury-riddled Lakers. He led the team in scoring with a career-high 17.9 ppg while hitting 38.6 percent of his 3-point attempts, his highest percentage since 2010-11.

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.

Defensive Player of the Year by the numbers

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com

Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut have been key cogs in the Warriors' defense. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut have been key cogs in the Warriors’ defense. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Defense is difficult to quantify.

In the boxscore, we have steals and blocks, which don’t really tell us much. Two of the league’s top five in total steals plus blocks – Josh Smith and Andre Drummond – are Pistons. The Pistons are awful defensively and worse when Smith and Drummond are on the floor together than they are when one or both is off the floor.

NBA.com/stats tells us how many points per 100 possessions a player’s team has allowed when he was on the floor, a category dominated by players on the league’s best defensive teams.

To be considered for the Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, you should be on a good defensive team. The last player to win the award that wasn’t on a team that ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency was Dikembe Mutombo in 1997-98. And 12 of the 15 winners since then (including each of the last six) played for teams that ranked in the top five.

And you can find plenty of great defensive players in this season’s top five teams in defensive efficiency. Indiana (1) has both Paul George and Roy Hibbert. Chicago (2) has Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Golden State (3) has Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut. Oklahoma City (5) has Serge Ibaka.

It’s hard to pick a Spur for DPOY candidacy when none of them have averaged 30 minutes per game. Beyond the top five defensive teams, Chris Bosh, Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan could be candidates. Their teams all rank in the top 12 in defensive efficiency, and Howard’s Rockets have only dropped out of the top 10 since he started missing games.

This season, we have SportVU data to tell us how well opponents shoot near the basket when a player is there defending it. And we can supplement that with data on how often opponents actually shoot near the basket when that player is on the floor. Big guys should get credit for keeping the other team away from the basket, after all.

All stats are through April 7, 2014.

Big men DPOY candidates, defending the rim

Player %FGA Rank1 FG% Rank2
Andrew Bogut 27.5% 1 45.5% 7
Chris Bosh 32.1% 34 52.5% 39
Marc Gasol 30.3% 20 50.4% 24
Taj Gibson 31.1% 27 45.0% 6
Roy Hibbert 28.3% 4 41.7% 1
Dwight Howard 30.7% 24 47.8% 13
Serge Ibaka 34.2% 53 44.3% 3
DeAndre Jordan 31.9% 32 49.4% 19
Joakim Noah 29.6% 13 46.1% 8

%FGA = Percentage of opponent shots taken from the restricted area with player on the floor.
Rank1 = Among 72 bigs who have been on the floor for at least 2,000 opponent shots.
FG% = Opponent’s field goal percentage at the rim while player is defending it.
Rank2 = Among 58 players who have defended at least 5.0 shots at the rim per game for at least 50 games.

There’s more to defense than protecting the rim, though. For a big man to be an impact defender, he has to be able to contain ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls. This is where a guy like Bosh can show his value on a team that defends like the Heat. It’s also where a guy like Drummond still has a lot of work to do.

SportVU has numbers on how efficiently opponents have scored when a player is the help defender on pick-and-roll.

Big men DPOY candidates, defending pick-and-rolls

Help Defender Screens Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Andrew Bogut 725 688 624 0.91
Chris Bosh 1,120 1,063 1,051 0.99
Marc Gasol 765 726 759 1.05
Taj Gibson 715 695 699 1.01
Roy Hibbert 1,159 1,111 1,026 0.92
Dwight Howard 1,343 1,271 1,293 1.02
Serge Ibaka 961 924 925 1.00
DeAndre Jordan 1,494 1,441 1,500 1.04
Joakim Noah 974 939 879 0.94

There’s a lot that goes into these numbers. They’re from all possessions in which that player defended a ball-screen and the results (a score or no score) could be several passes away. So they do depend on his teammates quite a bit. Still, we can see that Bogut, Hibbert and Noah have distinguished themselves as both rim protectors and pick-and-roll defenders.

The other thing we can look at his how much of an impact these guys make on their team defensive numbers.

DPOY candidates, on and off the court

On floor Off floor Difference
Player MIN DefRtg MIN DefRtg DefRtg Rank
Andre Iguodala 1,976 96.6 1,745 103.1 -6.5 9
Chris Bosh 2,395 100.8 1,293 105.7 -4.9 20
Paul George 2,823 95.9 941 97.8 -1.9 74
Roy Hibbert 2,331 95.6 1,433 97.5 -1.9 76
Dwight Howard 2,310 102.1 1,368 103.5 -1.3 90
Andrew Bogut 1,688 99.1 2,033 100.2 -1.1 98
Taj Gibson 2,216 97.2 1,525 98.2 -0.9 105
Joakim Noah 2,619 97.5 1,122 97.9 -0.4 114
DeAndre Jordan 2,766 102.0 993 101.4 +0.6 139
Marc Gasol 1,775 102.8 1,941 101.5 +1.3 150
Serge Ibaka 2,475 101.3 1,198 99.8 +1.4 154

Rank = Among 239 players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes for a single team

If a team has better defensive numbers when a player is off the floor, it doesn’t mean that he’s a bad defender. The Thunder are typically defending the opponents’ best players when Ibaka is on the floor and their subs when he’s off.

Who these guys are being replaced with also plays a role. Hibbert’s the best rim protector in the league, but Ian Mahinmi is also a very good defender.

But the on-off court numbers make a strong case for Iguodala. The Warriors have been a much better defensive team with Iguodala on the floor and Bogut off than vice versa. Opponent shooting numbers, when you compare Iguodala to some of the league’s other good defenders at the small forward position, also make a case.

Top five small forward scorers* with defender on the floor

On floor FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% FTA PTS eFG% TS%
Luol Deng 68 180 37.8% 21 57 36.8% 61 208 43.6% 50.3%
Paul George 82 170 48.2% 11 30 36.7% 62 232 51.5% 58.8%
Andre Iguodala 65 156 41.7% 17 43 39.5% 48 185 47.1% 52.2%
LeBron James 97 210 46.2% 24 67 35.8% 73 272 51.9% 56.2%
Kawhi Leonard 64 139 46.0% 8 26 30.8% 51 179 48.9% 55.4%

* Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Paul George and Rudy Gay
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA)))

Ron Artest (2003-04) and Gary Payton (1995-96) are the only perimeter players to win Defensive Player of the Year in the last 25 years. And it’s hard to argue against a pick of either Hibbert or Noah as the anchors of the two best defensive teams in the league.

But Iguodala should definitely be in the conversation. He’s the biggest reason why the Warriors have jumped from 13th in defensive efficiency last season to third this year, and why the Denver Nuggets have gone in the opposite direction (from 11th to 21st).

Sixth Man candidates by the numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Kia NBA Sixth Man Award is a lot more straightforward than the Most Improved Player Award, in part because the field is limited. To be eligible for the Sixth Man Award, players need to have come off the bench in more games than they started.

If you eliminate players who have started at least half the games they’ve played and also players who haven’t played at least 1,000 minutes, you’re left with fewer than 100 guys (even if you add a few guys — like Steve Blake — that can get under the 50-percent threshold by continuing to come off the bench over the last two weeks). And since there aren’t too many great players coming off the bench, it’s not too hard to determine the *cream of the crop.

* Luke Babbitt, though?

The Sixth Man Award often goes to the eligible guy who averages the most points per game. And while instant offense is an important part of bench play, it’s not that hard to go beyond that and look at total production, in terms of basic boxscore stats …

All stats are through April 1, 2014.

Highest total efficiency, players eligible for Sixth Man Award

Player GP GS MIN PPG RPG APG eFG% EFF
Markieff Morris 73 0 1,922 13.8 6.0 1.7 51.1% 1,097
Taj Gibson 74 8 2,132 13.3 6.9 1.1 48.5% 1,094
Anderson Varejao 60 29 1,698 8.6 10.0 2.2 49.4% 1,024
Enes Kanter 74 33 1,955 12.1 7.0 0.9 49.0% 971
Tyreke Evans 65 15 1,804 14.0 4.6 4.9 44.1% 961
Reggie Jackson 71 33 2,038 13.3 3.9 4.2 48.0% 955
John Henson 62 23 1,648 10.9 7.3 1.6 52.9% 926
Jamal Crawford 66 23 2,002 18.6 2.3 3.2 49.9% 923
Vince Carter 74 0 1,810 12.1 3.6 2.7 50.0% 883
Timofey Mozgov 74 22 1,531 8.7 6.1 0.7 51.7% 869

Minimum 1,000 minutes played
eFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
Efficiency = PTS + REB + AST + STL + BLK – TO – Missed FGA – Missed FTA

That list includes a few names that you’d expect, as well as a couple that you can certainly eliminate because they play on really, really bad teams. But it’s an easy way to look beyond points per game, which, by itself, would indicate that Jamal Crawford is the runaway favorite for the award and that Dion Waiters has been the Cavs’ best reserve. Anderson Varejao has averaged 2.7 more rebounds per game than any other Sixth-Man eligible player in the league.

If we want to adjust for pace and minutes played, we can look at the PIE statistic from NBA.com/stats, which takes a player’s numbers (with weights added to each) as a percentage of the overall numbers that were accumulated while he was on the floor.

Highest PIE, players eligible for Sixth Man Award

Player GP GS MIN PPG RPG APG eFG% PIE
Anderson Varejao 60 29 1,698 8.6 10.0 2.2 49.4% 13.3%
Kris Humphries 66 28 1,338 8.6 6.0 1.0 50.2% 13.3%
Manu Ginobili 62 3 1,418 12.3 3.0 4.4 53.8% 13.0%
Jordan Hill 64 24 1,268 8.8 7.1 0.6 55.2% 12.7%
Tyreke Evans 65 15 1,804 14.0 4.6 4.9 44.1% 12.6%
Markieff Morris 73 0 1,922 13.8 6.0 1.7 51.1% 12.5%
Andray Blatche 67 6 1,504 11.4 5.4 1.5 48.3% 12.4%
Taj Gibson 74 8 2,132 13.3 6.9 1.1 48.5% 12.1%
Chris Andersen 66 0 1,294 6.8 5.2 0.3 66.9% 12.0%
Patty Mills 74 1 1,364 9.9 2.0 1.8 56.2% 11.8%

Minimum 1,000 minutes played

Four guys — Tyreke Evans, Taj Gibson, Markieff Morris and Varejao — are on both lists. Crawford ranks 16th in PIE (11.1 percent), while Manu Ginobili ranks 16th in total efficiency (838), having missed 12 of the Spurs’ 74 games.

But there’s one more thing we need to look at, because the ultimate job of a team’s bench is to build on a lead or at least sustain it. And when we look at how their teams perform with them on and off the floor, a few candidates rise to the top of the list (which I cut down to 10 guys who appear on at least one of the lists above).

On-off court efficiency differential, Sixth Man Award candidates

Player GP GS MIN OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Anderson Varejao 60 29 1,698 +5.1 43 -5.6 15 +10.7 13
Manu Ginobili 62 3 1,418 +9.4 8 -0.1 113 +9.5 23
Andray Blatche 67 6 1,504 +4.3 59 +0.0 121 +4.2 72
Reggie Jackson 71 33 2,038 +0.4 137 -3.0 54 +3.4 86
Taj Gibson 74 8 2,132 +3.0 84 +0.2 126 +2.8 96
Markieff Morris 73 0 1,922 -1.2 162 -3.0 53 +1.8 109
Chris Andersen 66 0 1,294 -2.4 185 -2.8 56 +0.5 130
Vince Carter 74 0 1,810 -2.9 191 -1.4 84 -1.5 160
Jamal Crawford 66 23 2,002 +1.1 129 +3.2 189 -2.1 167
Tyreke Evans 65 15 1,804 +0.3 141 +3.2 190 -3.0 181

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Rank = Rank among 235 players who have played at least 1,000 minutes for one team.

So Varejao comes out as the biggest difference maker, with the Cavs almost 11 points per 100 possessions better when he’s on the floor than when he’s on the bench. Ginobili hasn’t played a ton of minutes, but the Spurs’ offense receives a huge boost when he’s in the game. It’s also interesting to note that Gibson’s impact has been on offense (mostly because the Bulls have been great defensively no matter who’s on the floor).

On-off-court numbers obviously need some context, especially when you’re looking at a guy like Crawford, who has two teammates (both starters) who are top-10 players in the league. He’s played 1,415 minutes (71 percent of his 2,002) with Blake Griffin, but only 955 (48 percent) with Chris Paul. And though the Clippers have been better with Crawford on the bench, they’ve still outscored their opponents by 6.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. So his scoring numbers are far from empty and he is helping his team build on leads.

Still, if you look beyond points per game, the numbers see Ginobili and Varejao as guys worthy of first place votes, while Morris and Gibson should also be near the top of the list.

Pacers’ George shouldering, slumping under load of NBA stardom

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Paul George looks ahead to tonight’s Heat-Pacers matchup

INDIANAPOLIS – Paul George generated headlines and criticism when he spoke recently about his desire to be mentored by LeBron James.

At this point, George and the Indiana Pacers might settle for not being schooled by him.

With the Miami Heat in town tonight (8 ET, ESPN) for the third of the teams’ four meetings in 2013-14 — they’ve split the first two and clash again on April 11 in south Florida — the Pacers are struggling with some Xs & Os issues. They could stand a little R&R and while they’re at it, a few Z’s, too. But right now, it is George’s DNA that is getting much of the attention, as he tries to finish strong a season unlike any other he has experienced.

Through his first three years, the Pacers’ rapidly developing wing player faced minimal individual pressure. From something of a sleeper as the No. 10 pick in the 2010 Draft, the 6-foot-8 Scottie Pippen-playalike blossomed from helpful rookie to rotation player to starter to All-Star. His production and his minutes went up, up, up — from 7.8 ppg to 17.4, from 20.7 mpg to 37.6 — always staying a few steps ahead of expectations. The Pacers made the playoffs every year and, kind of like George, went a step further each time.

George’s game has taken another step again — he started for the East in the All-Star Game in New Orleans and he was a regular in MVP conversations through the season’s first four months. But the expectations have caught up to him lately and so, it seems, have the defensive game plans.

Like the Heat, the Pacers have lost seven of their last 12 games. Unlike the Heat, the Pacers don’t have two rings or nearly the established track record for pulling out of a nosedive. Especially since Indiana is the one that staked out a wire-to-wire run for the East’s No. 1 seed that has gone vulnerable at what could be the worst possible time.

Their rivals know it, the Pacers know it. One of those crews is grasping to fix it.

“We’ve got to do a better job of playing with energy,” George said after Indiana’s loss in Chicago on Monday. “We’ve just been dead, it seems like on the court lately. That’s not us. That’s not us.”

After the Pacers’ practice Tuesday, he added: “We just haven’t been having fun. We’re making the game much harder than it needs to be. Somewhere along the line we forgot how much fun this game can be. … We went through a streak of games where we were just getting by because we were the more talented team. Where now we have to play good basketball to get wins.”

It’s probably not a stretch to hear “I” each time George says “we.” Sure, the Pacers’ offense is the primary problem, but he has been so instrumental in it that the overlap is vast.

George is carrying a big load in Indiana’s attack — 21.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.5 apg — and with what’s been going on, has tried to shoulder more. It looks like pressing: He’s shooting 36.6 percent over his last 13 games –including 19 of 71 from 3-point range — and has had five games of 13 points or fewer (including nights of 2 and 8).

When he has shot less than 42 percent in this stretch, the Pacers are 3-6. He has had off-the-court distractions too – a paternity case from a woman in Florida, some photo-texting claim that broke over the weekend that he termed “a fake” — that surely have not helped.

Asked Monday if he has seen Indiana players try to do too much through the team’s slump, George said: “We have it at times. You’re going to need it sometimes. We choose the wrong moments.”

Asked if he’s been one of those guys, he said: “At times. I’m not going to say I’m not one of ‘em. I only have good intentions to get something going for us offensively and just be aggressive.

“Our execution isn’t where we want it to be. We’re nowhere where we want to be as far as screening. Setting guys up. Moving with energy, playing with some energy. And cutting without the ball. You know, everything has just been so lackadaisical. That’s going to get you beat. We’re putting too much pressure on ourselves to score against great defense in the halfcourt.”

There is no break coming Wednesday night, not with the way Miami traps the ball out top and, if all else fails, can ask James to throw a bruising defensive blanket over Indiana’s best player.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel acknowledged after the loss in Chicago that he has talked with George about not overburdening himself, forcing matters, or taking personally too much of the team’s struggle.

“All the time,” Vogel said. “He’s learning. He’s growing. I don’t want to share the details, but it’s a grind. It’s a grind right now. He’s just got to work his way through it.”

George is, after all, still 23. When Michael Jordan was George’s age, he had played in seven playoff games total. OK, Kobe had two rings at 23, but he also had Shaquille O’Neal. It took James — another high schooler with a head start — until his fourth season to reach The Finals and his sixth to win an MVP. Everyone’s into the hurry-up, but George has been doing fine.

These are teachable moments, this game, the next one against Miami and these next three weeks. Everything George and the Pacers want to achieve still is right there for them.

“I really wish I could tell you [the "book" on stopping George],” Chicago’s Taj Gibson said after George’s 8-of-22 shooting Monday. “Paul, over the years, hass added so many different things to his arsenal. The best thing you can try to do is play with a lot of energy and try to contest every shot. That’s the most I can tell you — every time he shot the ball, we tried to do a hard contest. Hand in his face, like Kobe kind of. You’ve just got to try to frustrate him any way you can.”

Lately, George has been starting halfway there, a situation he and the Pacers will try to remedy Wednesday.


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses the Miami Heat

 

Bulls’ Gibson adds scoring, flips switch of Sixth-Man chatter

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Taj Gibson notches a double-double to help the Bulls defeat the Sixers

CHICAGO – Joakim Noah, who plays at a full-on froth for the Chicago Bulls, works his way to that boiling point with a very personal, specific routine of physical and mental preparation that has him literally bouncing on the court by tipoff.

So he marvels at the on/off switch his friend and teammate Taj Gibson has, coming in cold off the Bulls bench and then – wham! – impacting the game in almost no time at all.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Noah said, eyes widening as he leaned back in his chair the other night. “He barely … I mean, I’ve seen Taj barely warm up and then he’s just dunking all over the place. It’s crazy. He’s very lucky to have that. Some people have that unbelievable gift.

“He’ll do things – he’ll lift weights before the game and get prepared, but it’s a lot easier for him than it is for me, I’ll tell you that.”

It’s a legitimate skill, catching up to a game already five, eight, 12 minutes old, stepping in among players already lathered and loose, when you’ve been sitting on the side in warm-up clothes. It’s one of the traits that has thrust Gibson into late-season conversations for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.

Gibson’s individual development on the offensive end might argue for Most Improved consideration instead, or as well. But it has been the 6-foot-9 power forward’s work in reserve – along with Noah’s ascension and D.J. Augustin‘s makeover – that has helped pushed Chicago beyond the doldrums of the Derrick Rose re-injury and Luol Deng trade.

And in Gibson’s case, it comes from his ability to hit the game balling.

“Oh man, I felt that today,” Gibson said after boosting the Bulls against Philadephia on Saturday with 16 points and 10 rebounds in not quite 29 minutes. “It’s rough. Some days he plays me at the five-minute mark, some days I have to wait till the second quarter.”

This time, Gibson entered with three minutes left in the first and got busy with a rebound and a block. Later, as has been coach Tom Thibodeau‘s practice for a long time, he played the entire fourth quarter, scoring eight points, grabbing three boards and getting another block.

Gibson finishes on most nights because his offense has improved and his defensive versatility makes him invaluable on pick-and-rolls. But starting quickly is what matters most at the game’s front end.

“Luckily I just know my routine,” Gibson said. ” keep a good rhythm going on the sideline. I’m jumping up, I’m cheering, I’m directing, I’m doing a lot of stuff to try to help my teammates from the bench.”

He sits on hot packs, Gibson said, and stretches with every timeout while waiting his turn.

“I just stay active, stay mobile, ’cause you can get real stiff waiting,” said the fifth-year product of USC and Brooklyn, N.Y. “When I get in there, the first look I take, I just take it to get a rhythm right away. That’s what Derrick told me – I’ve got good people giving me good advice. And it works out.”

How well? Gibson has scored in double figures in 26 of his last 31 games, averaging 15.1 points on 47.3 percent shooting, with 7.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.32 blocks. The Bulls are 20-11 record in that time.

He is averaging career highs in points (13.2, vs. 9.0 in 2009-10), assists (1.3) and minutes (28.7). He has reset his career scoring high to 26 and hit it three times, has scored 20 points or more in 11 games and has 13 double-doubles.

He’s the poster guy for that old coach’s saying: “It doesn’t matter who starts, it matters who finishes.”  Gibson averages 10.1 of his minutes in the fourth quarter. He started 70 games as a rookie in 2009-10 – Chicago’s Tyrus Thomas era hadn’t worked out so well – but has been a reserve in 278 of 310 games since Thibodeau was hired and Carlos Boozer signed in the summer of 2010.

Their early work together earned Gibson a four-year, $33 million contract extension in October 2012. His recent work has earned Thibodeau’s praise and endorsement for that SMOY honor.

“The biggest thing for him is what he’s contributed to us winning,” the Bulls coach said. “I hate to lock into individual awards. I think players are recognized when the team has success. … The things he does for our team are all team-oriented.

“Plays great defense. Challenges shots. Guards everybody. Runs the floor hard. Sets great screens. Does his job. Offensively, gets deep post position. Gets a quality shot up. When a second guy comes, he makes the play. He’s gotten comfortable in pick-and-roll situations.”

You want advanced stats? When Gibson has been on the court, the Bulls’ offensive and defensive ratings have been 103.7 and 100.7 respectively. When he sits, those numbers droop to 99.9 and 101.3.

Gibson’s offense, meanwhile, has benefited from equal parts confidence and patience. He saw what defenses were yielding to him, video of last spring’s playoffs and such, and has begun to consistently take those shots.

The Sixth Man award typically favors guards and wing players, the guys who bring instant offense. Eight of the past nine winners, with the exception of Lamar Odom in 2011, have fit that that description. And the top candidates this year – Reggie Jackson, Markieff Morris, possible repeat winners in Jamal Crawford or Manu Ginobili – all tend to help their teams most at one end.

Still, Gibson, who gives the Bulls both quickie offense and defense, lights up at the idea of the recognition. There’s that on/off switch again.

“It’d mean a lot,” he said. “Coming from a guy that played on the Bench Mob my entire career since we got Carlos, so many different guys coming and going. Just being able to come in, play defense, go from a guy that’s just focused on defense and now my teammates are looking for me on offense, it’s just great. … The coaching staff believing in me, it would be a dream come true.”

It’s only March, but Bulls get statement win over Heat


VIDEO: Joakim Noah talks about the Bulls’ win over the Heat

CHICAGO – So spontaneous, so combustible on the basketball court, Joakim Noah was wise not to let anyone light his fuse off it in the postgame dressing room Sunday.

The question was fair if indelicate, coming so soon after the Chicago Bulls’ 95-88 overtime victory against the Miami Heat at United Center: What would Noah say to the people on both sides of the rivalry who might downplay Chicago’s dig-deep triumph, ceding February and March games to the Bulls while reminding them who owns May and June?

“Sounds like a story to me,” Noah said, smiling slightly. “Sounds like an NBA.com story to me.”

But that wasn’t where this particular NBA.com story was headed.

The Bulls deserved the day. They deserved to enjoy their victory over the NBA’s two-time defending champions for what it was: an irrepressible display of passion and resourcefulness (27 second-chance points to Miami’s six), embodied by Noah, with enough context competing on both sides to cancel itself out.

Chicago has gotten the best of Miami in the regular season, by and large, because it plays harder, cares more and still has things to prove that the Heat do not. There is a satisfaction available to them in these games – particularly without Derrick Rose and now absent rivalry regular Luol Deng, too – that isn’t there for Miami.

What the Heat have is the luxury of playing it both ways: Competing hard to win a game such as Sunday’s but then, when they don’t, shrugging and striding out of the UC daring the Bulls to do it to them four times in seven tries over two weeks sometime after Easter. That makes it a no-lose for Miami, which has earned the right to treat the regular season like one really long runway, and something of a no-win for Chicago.

But then you remember the setbacks the Bulls have weathered, losing Rose to a second knee injury three weeks into the season and trading Deng as a pre-emptive “no mas” move in January, and how some wanted them to race toward the NBA’s bottom, chasing down Philadelphia and Milwaukee for prime Draft position. How they had neither man last spring, either – Rose out, Deng hospitalized – when they lost four in a row to the Heat after taking the opener in their East conference semifinals series. How you have to go back to the East finals in 2011 for the Bulls to come at Miami with their preferred crew.

“You look at all the ups and downs we go through,” Chicago forward Taj Gibson said. “We’ve got so many different injuries. We’ve got so many different guys every year. We’ve got new groups of guys but they always seem to buy into what we like to do. … And we just keep flourishing every year.

“It’s one thing we think about all the time: ‘What if? What if? What if we always had guys healthy or that same unit we had a couple years before?” the Bulls’ Sixth Man forward said. “But you can’t look at that. You have to look at who’s out there, who’s on the bench. Whoever we got, we’re gonna roll.”

It took 53 minutes before the Bulls could roll past Miami on Sunday. Noah led, but others – Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, even newbies like D.J. Augustin and Tony Snell – piled on. Chicago nipped at the Heat’s ankles, banged and bothered LeBron James into 8-for-23 shooting for 17 points and even hauled him down, Butler trading some baseline MMA moves with James in the second quarter.


VIDEO: LeBron James and Jimmy Butler get tangled up in the second quarter

They woofed about the “hate” that bubbles up between these teams whenever they get within 94 feet of each other – hey, the Bulls probably didn’t like it that James, Dwyane Wade and the rest had been hanging around Chicago for two days. And they punked Miami in the five overtime minutes, outscoring them 9-2, outrebounding them by the same numbers and turning nearly every salvaged opportunity into something good.

“We don’t like them,” said Gibson, whose YouTube-able dunk that made it 84-82 with 2:08 left in the fourth quarter took the crowd on a vicarious thrill ride. “You can see how we play. Both teams going at it, Joakim going at it.

“There’s a lot of talking on the floor. A lot of anger. You can tell by the way the fouls are being called and everything. There’s a lot of animosity, there’s a lot of physicality in our teams.”

Everything changes in the playoffs, Chicago knows. James doesn’t play 45 minutes without shooting a free throw in May or June, most likely. Or he switches onto Rose defensively and changes every angle for the point guard. At that time of year, Chris Bosh or Ray Allen hit 3-pointers that break backs, not merely post points.

But just because Noah’s 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, five blocks and nonstop pestering of all things Miami came in March doesn’t mean it didn’t matter or barely even happened.

“Dominant,” Gibson said of Noah’s performance. “He was talking trash to them the whole night. He was in there letting it be known he was going after every rebound, he was going to try to score every time he gets it. He was really tellin’ ‘em everything he was going to do. I could see it in their faces – he was frustratin’ ‘em.”

This was a case of two teams being right – the Bulls in huffing and puffing to seize what they can when they can, and the Heat in knowing that their own itches won’t be scratched until much later. Even Noah knows that. He could chuckle Sunday as he heard himself proclaim “a lot of hate” for Miami, though what he was talking about sounded more like envy. Envy for having an MVP who is more grit and gristle than gauze and bandages. Envy for the rings. Envy for how Miami ends its (and everybody else’s) seasons.

“Those guys ended our seasons a lot, so I think that’s where the hate comes from,” Noah said. “It’s not like ‘Oh, I hate this guy.’ I want what they have. I want a championship. And I know to get there one day, we’re going to have to get through those guys. That’s the hatred.

“I can’t wait till our whole unit comes back. Cause we know we have another level when that boy [Rose] comes back. We’re hungry, we’re a hungry group. That’s all I want. … One day, I want to party in Chicago and see what that feels like. One day.”

Sunday wasn’t that day, but in the meantime, it would do.


VIDEO: Bulls.com recaps Chicago’s big win over the Miami Hea

Morning Shootaround — March 1


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron’s mask dilemma | Knicks eyeing Jackson as Woodson’s replacement? | OKC and Butler a perfect fit | Bulls confidence soaring during current run | Colangelo: “I tried to tank”

No. 1: LeBron’s black mask days appear to be over after just one game — Well, it was fun while it lasted, LeBron James in that black mask to protect his broken nose. Our Bleacher Report brother Ethan Skolnick broke the news that the NBA prefers LeBron wear the clear mask and no the black carbon-fiber shield he wore during Thursday night’s win over the Knicks. And according to Skolnick, this isn’t just the league being heavy handed. It’s more about them sticking to the precedent that’s already been established in regards to goggles and facial ware being clear so there is no advantage for the player who is forced to play with goggles or a mask (go figure):

In an email, Skolnick explained why the league prefers a clear mask as opposed to a black one: “The reason the league prefers the ‘clear’ is so that opponents can see a player’s eyes. They have set rules about goggles, which came into play with (Dwyane) Wade in New York in 2011.”

Defenders already have enough trouble stopping James. If they’re unable to read his eyes as a means of guessing where he plans to attack, guarding him would become even more impossible.

Still, this change will be a bummer for the Internet world. Twitter exploded with various comparisons, GIFs and Photoshop creations as King James donned the Zorro-esque mask in a 108-82 win against the New York Knicks Thursday night.

LeBron isn’t going to let the black mask go away without a bit of a fight. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that an appeal has been filed and that LeBron, while prepared to comply with the league’s request, would like to continue wearing the black mask. It’s complicated, of course, as is anything this seemingly trivial:

“It is our understanding LeBron used the black mask because a clear one he was comfortable with wasn’t ready,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.

James appealed the decision and is still trying to get clearance to wear the black mask because he likes the lightness and fit of it, a source said. He also said he liked the style and how it matched the Heat’s black throwback uniforms. It gave him no issues when he put up 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting in the Heat’s 108-82 win against the Knicks.

But James is preparing to use a clear mask Saturday, though he still may find a way to personalize it.

The black mask was a huge hit among fans, and James and several teammates posted pictures with it on social media. On Friday, the Heat started selling T-shirts with a masked James on them.

“Only LeBron can make breaking your nose look cool,” Heat forward Shane Battier said.

***

No. 2: Knicks eyeing Mark Jackson as Mike Woodson’s eventual replacement? — The Knicks are in the midst of an absolutely dreadful stretch right now, one that has brought into question the futures of almost all involved but especially coach Mike Woodson and resident superstar Carmelo Anthony. Anthony will make his own decisions about his future, this summer in free agency. Woodson, however, will see his fate decided by the Knicks’ big bosses. And if the fans get their wish, a familiar face would be the choice to replace Woodson. New York native and former Knicks point guard Mark Jackson, who happens to have a job coaching the Golden State Warriors right now, is the dream pick, according to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:

The big meeting took place right out on the Garden floor, for all to see.

Knicks president and GM Steve Mills and his top lieutenant, Allan Houston, were double-teaming Mark Jackson a little more than an hour before the Knicks pulled a no-show and were routed by Jackson’s Warriors, 126-103, on Friday night.

Go ahead Knicks fans, dream a little.

We can tell you on good authority, no job offer was made. We know this because it was just small talk, chit-chat among old friends.

But it was fairly obvious to everyone in the place that the Knicks have a crush on their old playmaker.

Early in the game, they paid tribute to Jackson on the big scoreboard with a nice video of his career, showing some of his highlights during his two-part career in New York.

Then came the ultimate tribute, at the end of the video, when the PA announcer introduced Jackson, saying, “Once a Knick, always a Knick.”

When they say that about you at the Garden, you know you’re family.

Even MSG Network seemed to be doing its best to give Jackson an inordinate amount of air time in its postgame coverage.

It sure does seem as if the Knicks have their eyes on Mark Jackson, out of Bishop Loughlin and St. John’s.

It’s not as if Jackson hadn’t been back at the Garden before this night. So their show of affection seemed a tad excessive.

But maybe the Garden was just sending signals about who it wants to coach down the line. Jackson got his win, which wasn’t very hard to do. His meal ticket, Stephen Curry, notched his triple-double and there were still two minutes left in the third quarter. His team rebounded nicely off a 20-point loss two nights earlier in Chicago.

Mike Woodson is walking around with a look on his face as if he knows the end is near. Well, after these final 23 games.

“I’m not aware of it, I’m coaching my basketball team, so I haven’t kept up,” Jackson said beforehand about his old team.

Of course he was playing dumb.

He called the Knicks “a dangerous team.”


VIDEO: Masked LeBron was great against the Knicks but will he make another appearance in black?

***

No. 3: Butler a good fit for Thunder on and off the court — The Thunder ended that skid with Russell Westbrook back in the lineup, courtesy of Kevin Durant‘s 30-point second half in a win over Memphis Friday night. But they’re focused on regaining their winning ways and more right now. Caron Butler is set to join the Thunder’s title quest now that his buyout in Milwaukee is complete and once he’s cleared waivers. As Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman makes clear, Butler is an excellent fit for the Thunder’s culture, on and off the court, and should be play an integral role in whatever they do going forward this season:

You’ve probably read or heard about all that he brings: toughness and experience, professionalism and character, defense and 3-point shooting.

But what few among us know is why Butler, free to sign with any team after being bought out by Milwaukee on Thursday, chose to come to Oklahoma City.

For now, all we can do is assume it’s because the Thunder gives him a chance to win his second championship. But there’s got to be something more.

That alone is something other franchises, like Miami, Indiana, San Antonio, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers, also could offer. And the Thunder, for myriad reasons, couldn’t offer the most money or the most minutes or the biggest and best metropolis.

So what’s bringing Butler to OKC?

One reason could be the Thunder’s culture closely matches Butler’s mentality.

Butler would become only the second player the Thunder has signed after another team agreed to a buyout. Derek Fisher in the 2011-12 season became the first.

Both carried with them well-established reputations for being upstanding citizens, community-minded individuals and championship-driven players. Their attraction to Oklahoma City could say as much about the Thunder as it does about them.

It could say the Thunder is now a prime destination for players who want to win.

***

No. 4: Bulls confidence soaring after latest show of toughness — The Chicago Bulls take pride in their toughness. Coach Tom Thibodeau has instilled that in them from the start. And with leaders like Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich around to spread the message, it’s no wonder the Bulls are thriving during what would be tumultuous times anywhere else. They know that no matter the circumstance, no matter who is or is not in uniform, they will compete to the very end. They showed off that intestinal fortitude in an eye-opening comeback win over the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas Friday night. It was the Bulls’ eighth win in 10 tries. They are cut from a completely different cloth than any other team in the league in that regard, notes Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com:

The difference between the Bulls and many other teams in the league is that they rarely lose focus on what they are trying to accomplish. They believe in themselves and they believe in coach Tom Thibodeau’s system. They believe, no matter how good their opponent might be, that they can win each night. That’s why, when they got into a 16-point hole in Friday’s first half and had to knock down shots late in the game, their demeanor never changed. They never stopped believing that tough defense and big shots would be the elixir against a Mavericks team playing some of its best basketball of the season.

“I just think we didn’t panic,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said, “I think guys understood what we have to do. … We’re just focused right now. Our defense is really clicking. Our offense is really clicking. Guys are really taking big-time shots, we’re never panicking late, we’ve been in this situation. Our poise is just through the roof right now and we’re really in a rhythm.”

That’s the key for Thibodeau’s team as it streaks into March. The rhythm Gibson talked about was missing before the turn of the new year. The same Mavericks team came into the United Center in late December and beat the Bulls by 22 points. Gibson and his teammates are finding ways to adjust on the fly, something that was apparent in the defining fourth quarter, when the Bulls tightened up their defense and held the Mavericks to only six makes from the field in 25 attempts.

“We’re tough whenever we’re playing defense,” Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said. “Rotating, getting into the ball. I think that’s where the basketball starts for us. We let our defense dictate our offense.”

The Bulls are only going to go as far as their defense takes them this season. That’s why Friday’s comeback win meant a little more to them. They realized yet again that they have the ability to shut down good teams on the road — a trait that will serve them well in the playoffs. They realized that they could overcome their surroundings, as Mavericks owner Mark Cuban barked at officials under the basket and Dallas assistant coaches Mike Shedd and Mike Weinar screamed out most of the Bulls’ sets whenever Thibodeau made a call. It’s games like this, victories like this, that remind the Bulls just how important the little things are to winning.

“I feel like when people call you resilient that’s a compliment,” Noah said. “But we just got to stay hungry, stay hungry, keep this mindset, we got punched in the face early in the game, we stuck with it and we kept fighting. I think that’s what this team represents. We got one of our best wins of the year today.”

***

No. 5: Ex-Raptors boss Colangelo: “I tried to tank” — The Colangelos, the first family of basketball to many, has upheld the NBA shield for decades. But Bryan Colangelo, the former boss of both of the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors, admitted committing the cardinal sin for a franchise when admitted to trying to tank with the Raptors a couple of years ago. Colangelo came clean on a panel discussion at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. Colangelo said he did so during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, a move he said was a basic necessity for the Raptors, given their predicament at that time. USA Today Sports’ Sam Amick delivers the details:

As part of a Basketball Analytics panel in which a current proposal was discussed in which the league’s draft lottery system would be replaced by a structure in which the incentive for losing would be eliminated, Colangelo shared the sort of story that the NBA community is well aware is somewhat commonplace but that executives typically keep to themselves.

“I like (the proposal) because there’s no assurances (of getting a good pick) when you do tank,” Colangelo said. “Admittedly, I will say, I tried to tank a couple years ago.

“And I didn’t ‘come out and say, ‘Coach (Dwane Casey), you’ve got to lose games.’ I never said that. I wanted to have him establish a winning tradition and a culture and all of that, but I wanted to do it in the framework of playing and developing young players, and with that comes losing. There’s just no way to avoid that, but I never once said, ‘You’ve got to lose this game.’ “

Colangelo reflected on the ripple effect of that season, as the Raptors finished 23-43 and ultimately drafted Terrence Ross out of the University of Washington with the eighth pick. Because Toronto had finished with the same record as the Golden State Warriors, they had a coin flip to determine which team picked first.

Less than a year later, Colangelo was, in essence, replaced by former Denver Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri. Colangelo stepped down as team president three months later.

“Just one less loss (that season) would have put us in a coin toss for (the Portland Trail Blazers’) Damian Lillard potentially (he was taken sixth), and that was a need that we had on our team that year, a point guard need,” Colangelo said. “So it would have kind of taken us on a whole different route in this rebuilding process, and of course if we had lost a lot more games we would have had better odds to get (the New Orleans Pelicans’) Anthony Davis, the big prize that year. We’re looking at it, and it didn’t work out.

“There’s no assurances (in the lottery). I do like the certainty of the (proposed) process. I think there are some merits to obviously take it to the next extent, except I wish we could start it sooner because there really is some ugly basketball being played.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Friday night was a bonanza for mercurial performances around the league. Not only did Kyrie Irving go off for his first triple double … but Goran Dragic scored a career-high 40 points in the Suns’ win over the Pelicans … and Jordan Farmar made Los Angeles Lakers fans forget their woes, at least for a moment, with a career-high 30 points of his own in a win over the Sacramento Kings … Rachel Nichols sat down with Nets center Jason Collins for an in-depth interview about the veteran big man’s journey back to the NBA … and finally, the “Fire Woodson” chants and boos are getting louder and louder at the Garden

ICYMI of The Night: Steph Curry, needed just three quarters to record a triple double and help the Warriors dump the Knicks at Madison Square Garden 


VIDEO: Steph Curry loves working at Madison Square Garden

Yoked To Amnesty, Boozer Grinds On


VIDEO: Steve Aschburner discusses the state of the Bulls

CHICAGO – It’s been said before (maybe in this very space) that Carlos Boozer is the prototypical modern professional athlete, his Under Armour matched by a top coat that is equal parts Teflon, Kevlar and calluses.

The Chicago Bulls power forward has been a target for critics, be they ticket buyers, microphone wielders or keyboard jockeys, for most of his 12 NBA seasons and particularly so since the summer of 2010, when he was the Bulls’ consolation get in that offseason’s free-agent shopathon. If it wasn’t for a game that barked louder than it often bit (“Hold dat!”), it was for all those muscles that seemed more show than go.

For the past couple of seasons at least, Boozer has been the target of nearly non-stop speculation over Chicago’s likelihood of shedding him via the amnesty clause in the league’s latest collective bargaining agreement. Signed to a five-year, $75 million deal as a piece to an imagined Bulls championship, he and his salary have seen longer as an impediment to that. A segment of fans and media has grown impatient as each season passes, Boozer still in residence, emoting, slapping at the ball and sitting down the stretch of close games.

Look, we come here to assess Boozer, not to praise him. He does what he does. He is what he is and, for that matter, always has been. And at some point, you have to admire the tenacity and respect the unflappability.

“It’s easy [to tune out critics],” the veteran forward said Wednesday after putting up 15 points and 13 rebounds in a surprisingly uncompetitive 103-83 victory over Golden State at United Center. “That’s why I’ve been in the league so long. Twelve years, and just focus on what’s in front of you.”

Boozer is having another Boozer season, only slightly less so. His shooting percentage is at a career-low 45.5 percent and, though he’s making free throws more often than ever (77.6 percent), he’s taking a near-low of 3.0 per game. He has dipped to a just-average PER (15.0), using basketball-reference.com stats, compared to 20.1 for his first 11 seasons and 19.7 as recently as 2011-12.

And yet, Boozer almost is a mini-Timmy, much like the Spurs’ Hall of Fame-bound Tim Duncan, in his unfailing consistency for more than a decade. Compare his numbers per 36 minutes this season at age 32 with those he posted in his third year, 2004-05 in Utah at age 23, and across his career:

  • 2013-14: 18.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 7.6 FG, 16.6 FGA
  • 2004-05: 18.4 points,  9.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 7.3 FG, 14.0 FGA
  • Career: 18.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 7.8 FG, 14.9 FGA

This season, Boozer fussed a little over being yanked down the stretch of close games, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau tending – as he had been for three seasons – to trust backup Taj Gibson‘s defense. He has missed six games to injury, compared to three in all of 2012-13. His accuracy is down, as noted earlier. His lift at the rim is almost non-existent many nights. And his on-court/off-court net impact is way off (minus-4.8) from his career mark (minus-0.7).

Still, Chicago is 12-6 when Boozer posts a double-double. A scout at Wednesday’s game said: “I like his game more than a lot these [other scouts]. He’s not a good individual defender but he’s all right as a team defender.” And through two tumultuous seasons of Derrick Rose injuries and the Luol Deng trade last month, Boozer’s constancy has been almost reassuring.

“He’s playing well. And we need it,” Thibodeau said Wednesday. “The thing is, I look at he, Joakim [Noah] and Taj as three starters. I look at their production at the end of every night, it’s very, very good. I think we’re getting great play up front, and that’s been a huge key for our team. The rebounding is huge for us. Then the fact that we can throw the ball in to Carlos on one side, to Taj on the other, that’s another weapon that we can go to.”

Said Boozer: “We bring the juice, man, we bring the juice to this team. It’s very … loud (laughs), very passionate and we try to hold the front down inside.”

The question remains open: Will the Bulls amnesty Boozer after this season? Conventional wisdom suggests that any time a team can clear $16.8 million off its salary cap and luxury-tax liability with minimal downside, it should. But paying Boozer all that money not to play or, worse, to post his 14 points and nine rebounds for some rival at a bargain, double-dipping rate might not set well with Jerry Reinsdorf, the Bulls’ cost-conscious chairman.

It could, in fact, feel like a luxury tax of its own, especially if Chicago doesn’t try to dredge out serious cap space for this summer’s class of free agents, focusing instead on 2014-15 improvement from Rose’s return, the luring of stashed Euro forward Nikola Mirotic and the draft.

Meanwhile, whether for the next two months of the regular season and however long the Bulls last in the playoffs or for 15 months of the same, Boozer goes blithely along. His curtain publicly seems as impervious as the great and powerful Oz’s, though teammates have peeked behind it.

“I’m proud of ‘Los,” Noah said, “because I know ‘Los is going through a lot. For him to bring the intensity he brings every night, with everything that’s said about him and the future, even playing time – I mean, there are a lot of issues that are probably frustrating for him. But for him to come out here, practice the way he practices, come ready to play every day, it shows what kind of guy he is and I really respect that.”

Said Gibson: ” As a whole, we all help him out. We all ride with him. We really don’t think about what the outside world says about us, ’cause we understand some people are going to go against us no matter what. … Thibs just tells him, ‘Don’t worry about that stuff. Go out there, play basketball and have fun.’ He’s having fun. He’s laughing all the time. In the back of your mind, you want to think about [criticism] but as a team, we try to take his mind off that.”