Posts Tagged ‘Tom Thibodeau’

Morning shootaround — May 30

VIDEO: NBA TV analysts discuss Scott Skiles return to Orlando

Wade could test Heat | Hoiberg on tap | Skiles returns to Orlando | Harden wants help | Irving welcomes rest

No. 1: Wade could force Riley’s hand — What price loyalty? Over the years while team president Pat Riley has shuffled the roster to keep the Heat in the championship mix, franchise player Dwyane Wade has frequently made financial sacrifices to make it all work. He gave up money to get LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami. He took a shorter deal last summer after James left and the team gave Bosh a big, long-term deal. Now it could be time for Wade to expect his payoff and Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel says it could prove a challenge to Riley:

Amid the uncertainty of the team’s roster situation last June, Wade opted out of the final two years that was left on that contract. Then, once LeBron James elected to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency, Wade re-upped with the Heat on a two-year, $31 million deal that included a $16 million salary for 2015-16 at his option. That contract left more than $10 million on the table from what he otherwise would have collected by not opting out last June.

At the same time, Heat center Chris Bosh, who also is represented by Thomas, secured a maximum free-agent offer from the Houston Rockets, which then led to Bosh agreeing to a five-year, $118 million package with the Heat that began this past season.

Now, with James playing for a championship in Cleveland, it appears Wade might be seeking the type of significant deal he did not secure last summer.

“Several guys opted out of their contract last year,” Thomas said. “Obviously Dwyane wasn’t in a position that Chris was in, in terms of having another team offer a maximum deal. But the reality of this is he’s played his entire career for Miami. He’s done wonderful things in terms of the five titles that they played for, winning three of them.

“He’s had a tremendous career, and we’re just trying to see whether or not there’s room to continue that.”


No. 2: Bulls ready to make Hoiberg coach — In a city known for plenty of political secrets and more than its share of back room dealing, nobody is surprised that the Bulls have Fred Hoiberg lined up to the be their next head coach, replacing the fired Tom Thibodeau. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times says its only a matter of Hoiberg making things official:

“It’s just when Fred [Hoiberg] says yes to them, not if,’’ the source said. “This is a year in the works.’’

Coaches – both college and at the NBA level – are actually very much dialed into one another, and there weren’t many in either profession that didn’t feel like the Bulls and Hoiberg would be a match “sooner than later.’’

With the NBA Finals between Cleveland and Golden State set to start on Thursday, the Bulls could have the Hoiberg matter signed, sealed and delivered before then.

The only possible hiccup out there seems to be the Minnesota Timberwolves, who also covet Hoiberg. Hoiberg played for the Timberwolves from 2003-05, and then was an assistant general manager for the franchise, seemingly on the fast track to become the general manager. When that never materialized, he went into coaching prior to the 2010 season, and has turned Iowa State into a prominent NCAA program.

According to sources, he’s actually been on the Bulls’ radar since late last year as a Plan B, and as the relationship between now former coach Tom Thibodeau and the front office disintegrated as the year has gone on, he was Plan A with no realistic options following him.

That’s what made the press conference with VP of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman such good theater on Thursday, as the two had to do their best to act like it will be a vast coaching search.

“We’ve got certain criteria that we’re going to be looking for in the next coach,’’ Forman said. “But we’re not going to put ourselves in a box – ‘had to be a head coach, had to be an assistant coach, what level they’ve coached on’ – we’re really going to look for the right fit.

“And I went through some of those things that I’ve talked about. Obviously someone that can lead, but we’ve got to get somebody that can communicate at a high level, that’s got great knowledge of the game, obviously experience is a plus, as far as coaching is concerned. If they’ve been a head coach even more so, but we’re not going to limit our search in any way.’’


No. 3: Skiles hopes to make more Magic in Orlando — It took Scott Skiles and Magic president Alex Martins some time to make sure they were getting back together for all the right reasons, but the former point guard made his return to Orlando official and now he picks up the rebuilding process, says Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

In reality, however, the Magic first had to overcome a significant obstacle, a hurdle in Skiles’ mind.

“I wanted to make sure I was being hired because they thought I could coach, not because I was someone that was affiliated with the organization in the past,” Skiles said.

That concern, Skiles explained, started to fade away once he and the team’s general manager, Rob Hennigan, held a seven-hour talk in Skiles’ suburban Orlando home in recent weeks.

“The first conversation I had with him, I made it very clear that our first priority was to get to know each other on a personal level,” Hennigan said. “The conversation really sort of cascaded from there. I didn’t bring up one time that it was a bonus that he played here or has familiarity with the area and the fan base. That was truly just gravy.”

Throughout a press conference late Friday afternoon, Hennigan and Martins sought to combat the widespread perception that the team hired Skiles because of his past ties to the franchise.

Martins said Hennigan provided him with a list of potential hires shortly after the season ended, and Hennigan started to go through each name one-by-one. When Hennigan arrived at Skiles’ name and started to speak, Martins stopped Hennigan and told him that Hennigan had to arrive at his own conclusions.

Martins added that he spoke with Skiles just twice between the end of the regular season and Friday. The first time lasted just several minutes and was meant to inform Skiles that Hennigan would be in contact. The second time occurred Thursday, when Skiles, Martins and Hennigan traveled to Grand Rapids, Mich., to speak with the DeVos family.

“I truly wanted this to be an objective decision about his coaching ability,” Martins said Friday. “I didn’t want my personal past with Scott and my experience with him of having been a player here and our relationship to enter into that. We truly had to find the right coach for this team.”


No. 4: Harden would welcome playmaker — One look at a worn-away, worn-down, worn-out James Harden at the end of the Western Conference finals was all that was needed to tell you that the MVP candidate could not be expected to carry so much of the load if he is going to carry the Rockets to their goal of winning a championship. At the team’s exit interviews on Friday, Harden confirmed that he would welcome the offseason acquisition of a playmaking point guard so the Rockets can take the next step forward. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has the details:

He said he “definitely” would like to see the Rockets add another playmaker to take some of that responsibility out of his hands.
“That’s one of the conversations me and Daryl are going to have (and) the coaches,” Harden said. “That’s one of the pieces to add, but that’s later conversations. We’ll be all right. We’re very confident in the group we have. This summer we have to work hard and be ready for next year.”

Still, Harden said the Rockets could benefit from keeping more of their core together. Of the 15 players on the Rockets final 2013-14 roster, seven were gone by the start of the next season. Just five players on roster that faced the Trail Blazers were around by the start of this season’s playoffs.

He called keeping the Rockets’ nucleus together “very important” and spoke of the benefits of growing together.

“If we get Pat (Beverley) and D-Mo (Donatas Motiejunas) back healthy, we’re a really good team, a really deep team,” Harden said.

“We’re pretty good with what we have, maybe add a piece or so. But we made it this far with a couple of our guys injured and banged up. Put those guys together and we’ll be a lot better.”

Harden said he intends to work on his “entire game,” and cited “different aspects of shooting, coming off pin-downs, my ball-handling, not turning the basketball over so much.  Post-up game.”



No. 5: Break before Finals suits Irving — The rest of basketball world may not be happy with more than a week break before the start of the NBA Finals. But Cavs mending point guard Kyrie Irving says the break before taking on the Warriors is just what the doctor ordered, according to our own Steve Aschburner:

“I’m participating in everything,” Irving said after the Cavaliers’ workout Friday. “We just had a light practice today. The next few days, we’ll definitely ramp it up, I assume. I’m in everything. So I’m ready to go.”

That’s a departure from the previous three rounds. Irving sprained his right foot early in the first round against Boston, which, as he continued to play on it, led to a compensating injury in his left knee. That tendinitis limited him against Chicago and caused him to skip Games 2 and 3 against Atlanta in the East finals.

The three-time All Star, 23, did at least travel with the Cavs to Atlanta to start the series, then took a side trip to Florida with Cleveland team physician Dr. Richard Parker to consult with noted sports orthopedist Dr. James Andrews. They came back with a tweaked treatment plan, which Irving credited for helping him play in the Game 4 clincher Tuesday. He scored 16 points in 22 minutes in the 30-point blowout.

Irving’s production hasn’t dropped off entirely, even though he has lacked his signature turbocharged quickness, along with the trust in his body. In 12 games, he has averaged 18.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists, and his player-efficiency rating of 20.3 is within his PER range of 20.1 to 21.5 through his first four NBA seasons.

But going through the “will he or won’t he?” uncertainty with the knee (the foot isn’t much of an issue anymore) took a mental toll on Irving. So did the layers of treatment, even as he was trying to properly prepare in case he did play.

“You know, being hurt sucks. Especially in a time like that,” Irving said. “So it was just a learning experience, to say the least. But it was a test of my will. I was very resilient in what I was doing. Hopefully going forward I don’t have any relapse.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Klay Thompson could miss at least several days of practice before The Finals after diagnosis of a concussion….Dwight Howard will miss the 2015-16 season opener after getting upgraded to a flagrant foul in the Western Conference finals closer…Warriors Bogut says Dwight Howard crosses the line with physical play…Alvin Gentry is the first candidate to get a second interview with the Pelicans…Wes Matthews leaves the door open in Portland….Thabo Sefolosha says New York police have damaged his reputation

Morning shootaround — May 29

VIDEO: Relive the Warriors’ and Cavs’ conference title clinchers


Breaking down the Thibodeau ouster| Rivers: Paul, Jordan need each other to succeed | Randle aiming for return in Summer League

No. 1: Was Thibodeau enough of a politician?; Clashes with management led to his dismissal— Five seasons, 255 regular-season wins, 23 playoff wins (including an East finals berth) and countless other player-level accolades (developing an MVP, a Defensive Player of the Year and a Most Improved Player) weren’t enough to give Tom Thibodeau job security in Chicago. The Bulls fired Thibodeau yesterday in a not-too-shocking move given the unrest between him and the front office and now, must find his replacement. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski and our own Steve Aschburner chime in on the move with two different viewpoints.

Here’s Wojnarowski on how Thibodeau’s lack of political glad-handing may have led to his firing:

For all the issues that inspired Chicago Bulls management to carry out such a ferocious campaign to discredit Tom Thibodeau – minutes restrictions and personnel disagreements and an inability to simply interact – perhaps the most powerful had been jealousy.

Over and over, those listening to John Paxson and Gar Forman would tell you that Bulls management could never make peace with the praise heaped upon Thibodeau for 60-victory seasons and deep playoff runs. For them, it was too much about the best defense in the NBA, too much about his development of journeymen into rotation contributors, good players into All-Stars, great players into an MVP.

To them, Thibodeau represented a Chicago folk hero who needed to be leveled. Tell them that he was a great coach, and league officials say you’d often hear back from Bulls management that simply, “He’s good.”

If Thibodeau had only the political savvy to publicly praise his bosses, maybe everyone could’ve been spared the years of needless acrimony and drama. As Thibodeau joined the Chicago Bulls five years ago, a coaching friend told him: “Remember to kiss some babies,” a suggestion that he needed to learn to be more of a politician.

Thibodeau played a part in creating the dysfunction. In his next job, he needs to bring with him some lessons learned, needs to understand better that there can be compromises without destroying your values system.

In the end, management won over owner Jerry Reinsdorf to pay out the $9 million owed on Thibodeau’s contract. Reinsdorf has lorded over decades of management-coaching dysfunction – and yet Thursday he was issuing a statement on the firing of Thibodeau as a way to stay true to the organization’s “culture.” That’s been a screwed-up culture for a long, long time. Between Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose, the Bulls were a mess. When Thibodeau arrived, so did the winning – and then, so did the loathing between management and his staff.

Those close to Thibodeau say that Reinsdorf’s statement stung the coach on Thursday, that he had treasured his relationship with the owner. Thibodeau has always admired Reinsdorf’s accomplishments – a self-made tycoon, a successful sports and media mogul – and always felt that Reinsdorf had been an ally for him. Reinsdorf wasn’t around much, though, and talked far more with management than the coach. Thibodeau lost Reinsdorf in the past year, and ultimately lost the job.

Before the end of Thursday night, Thibodeau had sounded enthusiastic to close associates. He was thinking about the next job, about the possibilities out there. Throughout the day, Thibodeau was getting texts and calls from old players – with the Knicks and Rockets and Celtics and, yes, Bulls – and they say that it moved him.

In the hours after his firing, Tom Thibodeau hadn’t sounded angry to his friends – only nostalgic. Five years is a good run in the NBA; it’s just a matter of time until someone else comes calling for him.

And here’s Aschburner on how Thibodeau’s firing may have come as a result of the years-long feud between he and the front office:

Paxson and Forman spoke with assembled Chicago media for about 25 minutes Thursday afternoon at United Center, by which time Thibodeau had been told his services no longer needed and departed the Advocate Center practice facility across the street. He leaves with two years remaining on his contract, worth a reported $9 million, and the freedom to take a new NBA job (New Orleans remains the source of greatest speculation) or sit out to collect the Bulls’ money, whichever suits him. Paxson and Forman said the Bulls weren’t dragging their heels on Thibodeau’s firing to block him until available coaching vacancies were filled — that makes sense, since whatever he’d earn in 2015-16 would offset what they’d still owe him.

But the way it all was handled — Reinsdorf’s salvos lobbed at the coach in support of his guys in suits, the Bulls’ brain trust being far more available and talkative on Thibodeau’s fate after it had been sealed than while it was salvageable, an apparent Cold War in addressing their communication breakdowns and a sense that egos ruled the day more than the good sense to make things work among proven professionals — fit a little too comfortably into the franchise’s history. Or its vaunted “culture” that got mentioned time and time again Thursday.

Remember former Jerry Krause‘s notorious comment that “organizations win championships?” And the bad blood between Krause and coach Phil Jackson, and Krause and stars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? This was that, the same mood, just different principals.

One NBA head coach referred to Friday’s events in Chicago as “a crucifixion.” Another spoke of “the knife Reinsdorf stabbed in Thibodeau’s back” on the way out.

Among the things Thibodeau did in his time with Chicago was help Rose become the league’s youngest MVP, turned Luol Deng into a two-time All-Star, drill Noah into the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year and a fourth-place finisher in MVP balloting in 2014 and oversee Jimmy Butler‘s development as this season’s Most Improved Player. He got veteran Pau Gasol to perform at a level that made him an All-Star starter for the first time.

Of course, NBA players are survivors, so it’s not surprising that some of them reportedly weren’t happy with Thibodeau, his grinding work demands and what some of them felt was a limited offensive repertoire. Some were said to have complained in exit interviews with Forman and Paxson, and they didn’t exactly throw themselves in front of the divorce train when asked about the “noise” in March and April.

So who might the Bulls’ new boss be? Forman and Paxson made it sound like they were only now about to rev up a full-blown coaching search, which is hard to believe. Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, a Forman crony from way back who spent part of his NBA career in Chicago, has been the No. 1 candidate — at least in speculation –since before the season began. The idea that the Bulls would make this leap of cutting loose Thibodeau without having their parachute strapped on, or at least within reach, strains credulity.

Hoiberg is a bright basketball mind, a solid individual and, aside from a health record that required a second open-heart procedure recently, certainly capable of the Xs & Os required in the job. Certainly, he is communicative enough — and clued in enough now — to stroke Bulls upper management in the ways it apparently needs.

VIDEO: K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune analyzes the Thibodeau firing

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Morning shootaround — May 28

VIDEO: Highlights from Game 5 of the Western Conference finals


Thompson develops concussion-like symptoms | Reports: Magic, Pelicans interested in Skiles | Report: Bulls mull firing Thibodeau

No. 1: Thompson develops concussion-like symptoms after Game 5 — Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson took an accidental knee to the head by Houston’s Trevor Ariza late in Game 5. He suffered a cut, from which blood was coming out of, and had to leave the game, but eventually did return. After the Warriors wrapped up their Finals berth, however, Thompson said he wasn’t feeling well and developed concussion-like symptoms. has more on the story:

Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson developed concussion-like symptoms after Wednesday night’s series-clinching Game 5 win over the Houston Rockets, the team announced.

“Klay Thompson was evaluated by the Warriors medical staff immediately after suffering an injury during tonight’s game and was put through a concussion evaluation,” the team said. “At the time he did not show any concussion-like symptoms. After the game he began to not feel well and developed concussion-like symptoms. He will continue to be evaluated by the team’s medical staff tonight.”

Thompson said in a televised postgame interview that he was “feeling a little dizzy,” before adding, “We got a week off — or close to it. I’ll be all right. I’ll get my health back.”

The injury occurred when Ariza, caught in the air on a shot fake, hit the right side of Thompson’s head with his right knee. Ariza was called for a personal foul on the play.

Blood coming out of the cut prevented Thompson from checking back in to the game upon his return to the Warriors’ bench. He ended up needing three stitches to close the wound.

“He was definitely shaken up. We’ll evaluate him tomorrow. It was a bizarre night for him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said in his postgame news conference before Thompson’s concussion-like symptoms were revealed. “Huge first half that really got us going, and then I left him in too long, he got his fourth foul and I thought I’d buy one possession, see if we could get him a shot, and when he picks up his fifth and when I do bring him back, he immediately gets hurt and out for the rest of the night.

“The break will be good for him. It’ll probably be good for all the guys with the run we’ve been on, but especially for Klay.”


VIDEO: Thompson suffers accidental blow to head in Game 5

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Morning Shootaround — May 23

VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s Cavs-Hawks Game 2


LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks | Rockets look to win at home | Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? | Wizards wait to hear from Pierce | Globetrotter Marques Haynes passes away

No. 1: LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks The Atlanta Hawks hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and entered the game seemingly with several things in their favor. But even though the Hawks got a big night out of DeMarre Carroll while the Cavs rested Kyrie Irving (knee), Atlanta had no answers for LeBron James, who carried the Cavs to a 92-84 Game 2 win. As our man Shaun Powell wrote, James is proving that sometimes individual talent trumps that of a system

The Cavs were missing a starting point guard Friday and all that meant was his replacement would play the position … better. Yes, imagine if you’re the Hawks, and [Kyrie] Irving spends the day getting a second opinion on his aching knee by the famous Dr. James Andrews, and is a late scratch for Game 2.

You’re feeling decent about your chances to bring suspense to this series.

But suddenly, the emergency point guard whips an oh-my-Lord behind-the-back cross-court pass to Iman Shumpert. Swish.

Then finds James Jones. Three-pointer. Then J.R. Smith. Bucket. Then Shumpert again, wide open. Another three.

“Him snapping the ball at you, there’s energy in that ball when you get it,” Shumpert said.

On and on it went like this on the Hawks’ home court, with LeBron bringing the ball up and shouting instructions and putting his teammates in position to score and … oh, dropping 30 points himself. With 11 assists and one rebound shy of a triple-double, LeBron turned the series on its head and for all practical purposes shoved the Hawks to the brink. He reminded everyone that he can play all five positions on the floor, and play most if not all at All-Star level.

“When I was attacking I was seeing guys open,” said LeBron. “I have the utmost confidence in my teammates to make shots and make plays. So I passed the ball. The game presented that tonight. I did what was needed. I always try to be a triple-threat on the floor.”

This was not exactly as impactful as Magic stepping in for a hobbling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 Finals and getting 42 and 16 and 7, although in the context of this series, LeBron’s version could prove just as damaging to the Hawks and helpful to the Cavs. Not only did LeBron seriously reduce Atlanta’s odds of staying alive past Tuesday, he seriously helped Irving’s ability to heal up and be a step closer to 100 percent should the Cavs as expected reach the championship round.

A sweep buys time for Irving, and LeBron evidently has the cash.

“I’ve got a good vocabulary,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, “but I’m sort of running out of superlatives for the guy. His greatness is evident.”


No. 2: Rockets look to win at home After two close games in Oakland, including a Game Two in which they had the ball in James Harden‘s hands with a chance for a game-winner, Houston returns home for Game 3 tonight against Golden State. And while the Warriors play an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball, the Rockets are just concerned with getting a win and getting back into the series, writes Jonathan Feigan in the Houston Chronicle

Though much has been made of the entertainment value of the play of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Rockets’ James Harden, the Rockets said they could not share the excitement of a show when they came for a win. Rockets center Dwight Howard, however, said they could appreciate their part in a series that has already brought two outstanding games if the Rockets get some wins on their home court, too.

“I don’t think the Rockets’ fans had fun watching us lose tonight,” Howard said. “We’ve got to come back and play, but it’s going to be a great series. Two great offensive teams, two guys who battled for MVP all year going at it. It’s going to be fun. We definitely don’t take these moments for granted, because they don’t come by often. Like I said, it’s going to be a great series and we’re looking forward to coming back home. We want to see our fans loud and proud and ready for a battle, because there is going to be one.

“We don’t want to go down 0-3. So we have to come out and just play basketball — move the ball and do all the things we’ve done in the last two games to get us here and do that for 48 minutes. If we do that, then we should have a good opportunity to win.”

Rockets guard Jason Terry said the bottom line is the only thing that matters.

“We want to win,” Terry said. “That’s the bottom line. If we have a bad game and win, that’s cool. If we have a great game and lose, where is the solace in that? There is none. We want to go home and have a great four quarters of Houston Rockets basketball.”


No. 3: Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? — The New Orleans Pelicans ducked into the postseason out West before making a first-round exit, which wasn’t enough to save coach Monty Williams‘ job. But with all-world young big man Anthony Davis anchoring the middle, the Pelicans’ job is a plum gig, which might explain why, as’s Marc Stein reports, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has supposedly expressed interest in the gig…

Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans’ head-coaching position, according to league sources. ‎Sources told this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.

Van Gundy joins Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as confirmed candidates for the position, according to NBA coaching sources.

Gentry is the only candidate known to have formally interviewed for the post, with sources saying the uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau’s contractual situation with the Bulls has prevented the Pelicans and Orlando Magic from formally requesting to interview him. reported Monday that the Pelicans had been granted permission to interview Gentry before the Warriors began play in the Western Conference finals.

Van Gundy has been a popular TV figure since he coached the Houston Rockets in the 2006-07 season, and he has resisted interest from several teams in recent years, professing his desire to stay in broadcasting. But Van Gundy’s return to coaching has long been seen as inevitable, and the presence of rising star Anthony Davis as the centerpiece of an underrated roster has made the New Orleans job one of the most coveted in the league, with the Pelicans finishing strong under Williams to beat Oklahoma City for the West’s last playoff spot.

On an ESPN media call earlier this week, Van Gundy declined to discuss the prospect of pursuing the Pelicans’ post.

“I have too much respect for the coaching profession and the sanctity of a job search to publicly speak about any job openings,” he said. “That’s really not my style. So I’ll just leave it as I’ve said many times.

“I have the absolute utmost respect for Monty Williams. I coached him. I know what a class guy he is. He has integrity and humility, and I thought he did an outstanding job. I think he can be very, very proud of what he was able to accomplish there. You know, as far as the job search, I don’t get into the public domain on that. I just don’t think it’s right.”


No. 4: Wizards wait to hear from Pierce Last summer, the Washington Wizards surprised many observers when they inked veteran small forward Paul Pierce to a two-year contract. And though Pierce is 37 years old, he was Washington’s most clutch performer in the postseason, taking (and usually making) numerous last-second shots. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, now the Wizards wait to hear from the future Hall of Famer about his future, to find out when and where they go next…

About an hour after the his tying three-pointer was waved off and his Washington Wizards walked off the Verizon Center hardwood for the final time this season, 94-91 losers to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Paul Pierce delivered a jolt by indicating retirement is on the table.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” he declared late last Friday night.

Pierce must decide whether to exercise the $5.5 million player option to play his second season with the Wizards and 18th overall in the NBA. The future Hall of Famer will celebrate his 38th birthday in October. Last Friday, Coach Randy Wittman said he believed Pierce would return because he enjoyed his time in Washington but he and the organization await the decision.

“I don’t need to recruit Paul,” Wittman said Monday. “What Paul saw here and what he did here, not only with the team but with the city, all of that plays into it. His family was comfortable here. Will I sit down and talk with him? Yeah. But I don’t think I need to recruit him.”

After a lightened load over the regular season, Pierce shifted to power forward in the playoffs for long stretches, delivering his signature clutch shooting and trash-talking to propel Washington to a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Pierce remained an offensive weapon against the Hawks, but became a defensive liability at times, particularly in isolation situations opposite all-star Paul Millsap.

Pierce, who declined to speak to reporters Monday, averaged 14.6 points and shot a torrid 33 of 63 from behind the three-point line (52.4 percent) over 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games – increases from 11.9 points, 38.9 percent from three and 26.2 minutes per game during the regular season. But he explained that the campaign, preseason through playoffs, was an exhausting experience.

Yet Pierce’s impact, Wittman and players around the locker room asserted, was invaluable and went beyond on-floor production. Players credited Pierce to supplying a load of confidence and readiness the Wizards had been missing before his arrival.

“He means a lot,” said forward Otto Porter Jr., who broke out in the playoffs and received nonstop tutelage from Pierce throughout the season. “I learned a lot from him this year whether he told me something or I just picked it up. And it’s going to stick with me throughout my NBA career, what to expect in the NBA and how to be a professional.”


No. 5: Ball-handling wizard Haynes passes away A member of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 40 years, Marques Haynes died on Friday in Plano, Tex. He was 89. The New York TimesBruce Weber provides more

In two stints with the Globetrotters (his second was in the 1970s, a more showmanlike incarnation of the team), over decades with his own team, the Harlem Magicians (also called the Fabulous Magicians) and with a few other squads, Haynes traveled an estimated four million miles and played in an estimated 12,000 basketball games in 100 countries, give or take a few — in racially hostile Southern towns, in dim school gyms, on dirt courts in dusty African villages, in bullrings, soccer stadiums and emptied swimming pools, not to mention in Madison Square Garden, the Rose Bowl and other celebrated arenas all over the world.

Haynes was a brilliant player — a fine shooter, a tenacious defender and an expert passer. But as a dribbler he was nonpareil, and it was that skill that made him an ace entertainer.

The Globetrotters, who began life on the south side of Chicago — they didn’t play a game in Harlem until 1968 — had been playing competitively since the 1920s. But when Haynes joined them, in either 1946 or 1947 (sources are divided on when he made his first appearance), their reputation as basketball entertainers was still emerging.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could Tom Thibodeau take next season off? … The Nuggets say they’re going to be “aggressive” this summer … Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says if there’s a player in the NBA who plays like rookie guard Jordan Clarkson, it’s Russell Westbrook … The Pacers and Luis Scola reportedly have mutual interest in a reunionGordon Hayward underwent a “minor surgical procedure” on his heel …

Morning shootaround — May 17

Moment of truth | Irving sits out | Father’s memory drives Kerr | Thibs or bust

No. 1: Rockets-Clippers reaches seventh heaven or hell — Very few words generate more buzz, more excitement, more stomach-churning anticipation than this: Game 7. After all the back-and-forth, all the blowouts and all the missed opportunities on both sides, now the Rockets and Clippers will settle the matter of who gets the last spot in the NBA’s version of the Final Four today when they square off at Toyota Center in Houston. Our Fran Blinebury says it will be remembered as the tale of comeback or collapse, depending on your perspective, when the matter finally comes to a head:

History and the home court gives the Rockets a decided leg up before the opening tip. Road teams have won just 24 of 119 Game 7s in NBA playoff history and only eight teams ever have come back from the 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series that Houston is attempting. The last time it happened was in 2006.

However, the Clippers faced the same situation in 2012, letting a 3-1 lead over the Grizzlies turn into a 3-3 tie and throat-tightening time. But they went into Memphis and won Game 7. The Clippers have also won seventh game showdowns last season against the Warriors and in the first round this season over the defending champion Spurs. In Las Vegas, the odds makers have the Clippers as a two-point favorite.


No. 2: Ailing Irving held out of practice — The countdown clock to the Eastern Conference finals is down to three days and it looks like Cavs’ point guard Kyrie Irving will be happy to use up every single minute of that time as he hopes to heal a left knee injury that was tweaked in the close-out Game 6 win at Chicago. He’s also got some some other aches and pains, so our Steve Aschburner notes that Irving — uncertain for Game 1 against Atlanta on Wednesday night — was just a spectator when the rest of the Cavs hit the practice court on Saturday:

With days to go before the Eastern Conference finals begin in Atlanta, it wouldn’t have been shocking if the Cleveland Cavaliers’ entire squad had been held out of practice Saturday. But since most of their players did participate, point guard Kyrie Irving‘s lack thereof was duly noted by assembled media.

As the folks at reported:

[Irving] was held out of practice Saturday after reaggravating a left knee injury in Thursday’s closeout Game 6 against the Chicago Bulls.

An MRI on Monday revealed tendinitis in Irving’s knee. Irving has also been battling a right foot strain suffered in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Boston Celtics.

Cavs coach David Blatt said Irving saw the doctors again Friday. Blatt couldn’t give a definitive assessment of Irving’s status for Wednesday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Hawks in Atlanta, but said the Cavs “hope” he can play.

“He going through a lot of treatment and we’re monitoring and just hoping that he progresses from here until game time,” Blatt said.


No. 3: Kerr is guided by his father’s legacy — There are many reasons why the Warriors have advanced to the Western Conference finals for the first time in nearly four decades, but none more so than coach, Steve Kerr. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News tells the wonderfully poignant story of the man who shaped Kerr, his father Malcolm, who was gunned down by an assassin in Beirut back in 1984. It is highly recommended reading:

Kerr spoke at length about his childhood during a recent interview and credits both parents, working in concert across continents, to provide “everything I needed.” But in personality, Kerr said, he is wired like his father: Reserved but passionate (the father about Lebanon, the son about basketball), thoughtful but possessing a razor wit.

Kerr’s memories remain vivid all these years later, and he rattled them off: There is Malcolm, reading The New Yorker in the stands at Dodger Stadium. There is Malcolm, coming home from the office and making popcorn. There is Malcolm, emerging from his study to shoot baskets in the driveway.

And there is Malcolm, patiently waiting for his enraged son to settle down.

“He set such a good example,” said Kerr, who has three children. “I’ve tried to be the same way with my kids.”

The lessons imparted at home and the experiences gained overseas — “They all got thrown into bathwater and survived,” Ann said — combined to shape Kerr’s worldview, foster a sense of empathy and sharpen his interpersonal skills.

Those same skills would help carry him through a 15-year NBA career — a second-round draft pick, he won five NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs — and ease his transition to coaching.

“I developed a lot of compassion living in Egypt, seeing the poverty,” he said. “The discussions around the dinner table about world politics and understanding how fortunate we were — all that helped me gain perspective on life.

“That helped with teammates when I was a player and now as a coach.”


No. 4: Bulls and Thibodeau need detente — Let’s face it. Despite all of the supposed excitement in the front office over Fred Hoiberg, there will be a learning curve if Fred Holberg makes the jump from the college ranks to head coach of the Bulls. And despite the fact that he’ll have his pick of the jobs in Orlando and Denver and New Orleans, Tom Thibodeau will have considerable building to do before he gets those teams to the current level of the Bulls. So David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune says the best shot at a championship for both sides is to find a way to work and stay together:

Unless Thibodeau’s successor is Doc Rivers or Gregg Popovich, no new coach will be more qualified to get the Bulls to the NBA Finals quicker. Unless Thibodeau unseats David Blatt in Cleveland — possible, but still a long shot — it’s hard to imagine any team Thibs inherits being closer to winning their conference than the Bulls. Sorry, drama kings, both Thibodeau and the Bulls are better together than apart.

Compromise should be the goal — not the enemy — for Thibodeau and the Bulls management tandem of Gar Forman and John Paxson. It should be imperative to Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf that he intercedes to help them achieve it. Reinsdorf, 79, should understand that letting Thibodeau go now realistically removes the urgency from next season. Any new coach introduced, whether it’s Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg or Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry, delays any realistic championship run.

Creative tension is great until it shatters a championship window. With the White Sox, Reinsdorf presided over the soap opera that played out between then-general manager Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen. With the Bulls, back in 1998, Reinsdorf oversaw the clash of then-GM Jerry Krause and coach Phil Jackson. At least those previous odd couples won titles together before divorcing. The Bulls and Thibodeau are on the verge of splitting before ever playing into June.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Billy Donovan is going after some big names to assemble a high-powered coaching staff with lots of NBA experience in OKC…Dwight Howard, who leads the playoffs in technical fouls, admits that his emotions often get the better of him on the court…Before they take the court for Game 7 against the Rockets, the Clippers better make sure they’ve unloaded their emotional baggage from Game 6…Word is the Celtics are looking to move up in the draft to get Willie Cauley-Stein…Coach Randy Wittman believes Paul Pierce will return for another season with the Wizards…Members of the National Basketball Players Association are quite content with the direction and leadership shown by new head Michele Roberts.

Morning shootaround — May 16

VIDEO: Daily Zap for Friday’s two playoff games


Curry splashes on Memphis | Finally, Hawks reach round of 4 | Better days ahead for Wiz | Counting by 2’s in 3-point league

No. 1: Curry splashes on Memphis — On an almost nightly basis around the NBA, you’ll see this laughable sight: Some player who has no business hoisting shots from 3-point range, let alone some distance beyond that, will be heaving up ridiculous attempts from out-of-bounds on the sidelines. Or from halfcourt. The simple thought of “Planning to take that shot in the game, are ya?” never seems to cross their minds. But then there’s Steph Curry and a couple of his friends on the Golden State Warriors, who hoist the ball from such spots and have credibility enough to call them “field-goal attempts.” Curry was at it again while helping the Warriors oust Memphis for one of the berths in the Western Conference finals, per our own Shaun Powell:

There have been plenty of bubble-bursting shots in playoff history and while Jerry West‘s 60-foot runner in the 1970 NBA Finals is easily the Hindenberg of them all, was Curry’s three-quarters-length heave Friday one of the loudest pops heard since?

The noise is still banging in the eardrums of the Grizzlies, who were simply stunned by the sequence in the final seconds of the third quarter, just when they were mounting a comeback to prevent elimination. The FedEx Forum crowd was buzzing and begging the Grizzlies to seize control of Game 6 for the first time all night. Jeff Green rushed downcourt attempting to cut the Golden State lead to three when he was blocked. Curry scooped the loose ball and threw a chest-shot in the opposite direction … from near his own three-point stripe … and the ball didn’t even have the decency to bank off the glass or wiggle inside the rim first. It was true. Splash. Damn. For a city steeped in music, Curry just played a lullaby and put all of Memphis to sleep. The arena became that hushed.

“In mid-air,” said coach Steve Kerr, “I said, ‘I think it’s going in.'”

Yes, after the season he had, and the playoffs he’s having, we’re all conditioned to feel that way about Curry now, that when he misses a jumper, from wherever, it’s a head-scratcher. He’s the rare player who never loses confidence, who won’t skip a shot because he clanked one or two. That makes him dangerous and drives the defense crazy. And every time he touched the ball after that 62-footer, the crowd groaned before he even flicked his wrist. They knew. You knew.

Curry made 25 from deep in this series and the Grizzlies made 24. Curry made eight (out of 13) 3-pointers in Game 6, the Grizzlies four. He was a one-man 3-point demolition crew, none more crushing than from 62 feet. The Grizzlies collectively caved in the fourth quarter after Curry’s groin-kick and their season was done. Meanwhile, Curry’s legend and the Warriors move on, to a place where the franchise hasn’t been in 39 years, four wins from the NBA Finals, bringing the requisite superstar necessary to win a title.


No. 2: Finally, Hawks reach round of 4 — It took one 10th of a second, maybe two, in which one of Paul Pierce‘s fingers still was in contact with the basketball to make it happen. But after the official replay review revealed the truth about The Truth, wiping out the corner 3 that would have sent the Hawks-Wizards game into overtime, Atlanta finally … finally … finally emerged from that Eastern Conference semifinals series to secure a spot in the conference finals. Our man Lang Whitaker was there to chronicle a little history:

Since moving to the Eastern Conference before the 1970-71 season, the Atlanta Hawks have made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals 15 times. But somehow, despite all those chances, things have never gone their way, and the Hawks have never been able to advance into the Eastern Conference finals.

Until Friday night. ATLast.

After a campaign where they surprised pretty much everyone during the regular season en route to winning 60 games and the Eastern Conference, the Hawks continued writing a new history by beating the Washington Wizards 94-91 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. For the first time in 45 years, the Atlanta Hawks have advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.

“I think the city really deserved this,” said Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll, who led the Hawks with 25 points. “They needed this. I think we wouldn’t even be here without our fans.”

As with most things Hawks, it wasn’t easy and it nearly didn’t happen. Despite leading by 10, 81-71, with nine minutes remaining, the Wizards tied the game at 89 with 1:14 left to play. To take the lead for good, the Hawks turned to the very thing that defined them throughout the season: team basketball. Instead of going one-on-one, Jeff Teague found Carroll on backdoor cuts on back-to-back possessions, giving the Hawks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

To be certain, a trip to the Eastern Conference finals for the Hawks should be considered “getting through,” but it’s still baby steps — during Atlanta’s dry spell, the Boston Celtics have been at least as far as the Eastern Conference Finals 17 times. But after a summer of discontent for the Hawks, with general manager Danny Ferry taking an indefinite leave of absence following making racist statements on a phone call, and then the franchise being put up for sale following an owner self-reporting racially charged emails, any type of good news would probably be embraced by Hawks fans. A 60-win season and trip to the Conference finals exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations.


No. 3: Better days ahead for Wiz — There was no denying the disappointment for the Washington Wizards. As far as some of their players are concerned, losing in the semifinals is a Groundhog Day hell that officially meant no progress from their elimination two rounds deep a year ago. There’s a difference between knocking at the door as a team on the rise and knock-knock-knocking as a legitimate championship contender. But setting aside the emotions of Friday night,’s John Schuhmann pointed out some of the progress on which the Wizards can build, once they get over this:

[The] Wizards did something in this postseason that they didn’t do last year and that they didn’t do in the regular season. They put the ball in the basket. They were the most improved offensive team in the playoffs.

A team that ranked 19th in offensive efficiency in the regular season changed its identity and looked rather potent. Inefficient mid-range shots became 3-pointers, and 40 percent of those 3-pointers went in. It was like the Wizards finally discovered what the rest of the league has known for the last few years.

With more space to operate, [John] Wall made it clear why he was the No. 1 pick in the Draft five years ago. No matter how the opponent defended him, he made the right decisions and the right plays.

With Wall out of the lineup for three games, Bradley Beal stepped up and showed why he was the No. 3 pick in 2012. He stuck to Kyle Korver all series and scored inside and out.

And with an opportunity like he’s never had before, Otto Porter looked like a top-three pick too. He was a 3-and-D small forward, slowing down DeMar DeRozan in the first round and staying active off the ball on offense.

And suddenly, you realized that this team has a lot of talent. Young talent. Wall turns 25 in September. Beal and Porter each turn 22 next month.

Paul Pierce provided leadership, swagger, and the ability to space the floor as a part-time four man. And if he chooses not to exercise his player option for next season, he will be missed.

But whether or not Pierce is back, the Wizards will continue to build around their three young perimeter players and a defense that has ranked in the top 10 each of the last three seasons. And they now have the blueprint – more versatility at the forward positions – that can push them toward a top 10 ranking on the other end of the floor.

When you have a top 10 defense and a top 10 offense, you’re a title contender.


No. 4: Counting by 2’s in 3-point league — The Memphis Grizzlies are like pizza, if you think about it. Pizza is great. Pizza is welcome almost any time and any place, same as the Grizzlies are a hoot to watch and root for across the long, corner-three-loving NBA regular season. You slog along on a diet of what has become the same-old same old in this league – pesky perimeter guys buzzing around and feeling great about making 40 percent of their shots, as long as their toes are behind the right line – and then you spot the Grizzlies on the schedule. Hey, pizza! The problem with pizza, or in this case, Memphis’ pounding, bigs-based attack, is that it only gets you so far. Pizza is fun but it’s not welcome at the biggest events — holiday dinners, weddings receptions, fancy client meetings, The Finals. That’s not unlike the limbo in which the Grizzlies find themselves, unique and yet unloved, as far as the ring sizers go. Royce Young of evaluated Memphis’ style shortfall vs. Golden State:

The series was billed as style against style, with the Grizzlies’ traditional, two-big ground-and-pound against the Warriors’ contemporary all-purpose attack. And as it played out, it was the same old postseason story for Memphis: Enough to remain exceptionally competitive, but not enough to advance.

“The series was a good series,” [coach Dave] Joerger said. “It was about which style won out.”

The Grizzlies are very direct. They want to play inside-out, focusing everything at their two beastly bigs and reluctantly relying on the perimeter. But as Steve Kerr and the Warriors played their ace in the hole, cross-matching Andrew Bogut on [Tony] Allen, the Grizzlies didn’t have a countermove. More than any other team in the league, they are who they are. Their identity is forged in grit and grind, which unfortunately doesn’t include versatility and flexibility, hallmarks of today’s pace-and-space NBA.

“We have who we have,” Mike Conley said. “We have our personnel. We play through our personnel. We have big guys, and that’s what we have to play through our strengths. We can’t change that. We have to work with what we have. We’ve done a phenomenal job with it, but I think us going into next season, we have to find ways to free up guys on the outside, get guys that can get easy looks, try to open up and knock them down and get more opportunities for our big guys.”

The annoying narrative that still hangs around is that jumpers don’t win in the playoffs, that 3-pointers are a siren song of temptation, not of tried-and-true success. Well, no team is more interior focused and less reliant on jumpshooting than the Grizzlies …

The answer seems to be obvious. The Grizzlies have to adapt, have to adjust, have to evolve. They’ve played their stubborn way for five years now, and it’s produced admirable success. This is a unique roster that plays a one-of-a-kind style. Even more, this was probably the Grizzlies’ best team. They just couldn’t match the Warrior buzz saw, and that’s where lines get blurred. The Grizzlies had a terrific season; they also weren’t good enough. There’s something to be proud of in giving the Warriors hell; there’s also nothing tangible to take from it.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Pierce has 6 million reasons to return to the Wizards next season, but the challenge gets greater when you’re matched up with Father Time. … Change is coming in Chicago, writes our Steve Aschburner, with coach Tom Thibodeau‘s status in the air and Derrick Rose needing to recommit. … Some wonder why the Bulls’ alleged top candidate to coach next season, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, would leave just two years into his 10-year, $20 million contract. But the Cyclones’ athletic director expects Hoiberg to tackle the NBA challenge one of these days. … Uh oh: Phil Jackson allegedly maybe doesn’t like the idea of Isiah Thomas hanging around Madison Square Garden as president of the WNBA Liberty, according to the New York Daily News. … Golden State’s David Lee didn’t initially believe teammate Steph Curry when he told the veteran power forward the postseason would last long enough for him to play a role for the Warriors. Well, guess what?

Gasol plans to play in Cavs-Bulls Game 6

CHICAGO – For Pau Gasol, it’s a no-blink showdown of history vs. urgency.

The Chicago Bulls’ All-Star big man has had, by his own count, three hamstring strains in his 14 NBA seasons. One sidelined him for a month. Another put him out for more than two weeks.

The third? That’s the one he’s dealing with right now, and he’s only five days removed from having to exit Game 3 of the Bulls-Cavaliers Eastern Conference semifinal series due to the pain and limitations stemming from it.

But Game 3 probably feels as if it’s a month ago to the Bulls and many of their fans – Chicago’s 2-1 series lead has turned into a 3-2 elimination predicament – so if Gasol and his team’s medical staff can just convince that balky left hamstring that it’s had plenty of rest and treatment …

Y’know what? Doesn’t matter. Gasol said Wednesday that he will play in Game 6 Thursday night at United Center.

“I mean, right now it’s win or go home,” the 7-footer told reporters at the Bulls’ Advocate Center practice facility. “There’s nothing left but tomorrow’s game. What percentage I’ll be able to play? I don’t know, but whatever percentage I will be, that’s what I’ll give.”

Gasol, after doing a light workout Tuesday, said he felt no ill effects in his leg and he upped his rehab Wednesday to run a little harder, get up some shots and work through some basketball plays. He has not tried to jump yet and sounded as if his goal is shorter stints than his usual 32-34 minutes.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Tuesday that having Gasol’s length, his shooting and passing abilities and his know-how – even on a limited basis – could be helpful if his team hopes to force a Game 7 Sunday back in Cleveland. The team with the rebounding edge has won each game and Gasol, in the paint, is Chicago’s best shot at getting easy baskets when one of its chronic scoring droughts hits again.

While Gasol was officially listed as probable in the Bulls’ injury report, there was no mention of guard Derrick Rose. The point guard suffered symptoms in his right arm from the shoulder stinger he had late in the series opener, but Thibodeau said Rose was fine Wednesday.

Gasol likely out for Game 5; Irving won’t consider sitting

VIDEO: Irving talks to reporters on Monday

CLEVELAND – Injuries are an entirely individual thing. They vary in type, severity, discomfort and impact on an athlete’s ability to compete. One player’s plantar fasciitis, in other words, is another player’s sore foot, and there’s nothing to be gained from comparing and contrasting.

So the fact that Chicago forward Pau Gasol (strained left hamstring) is expected to miss his second consecutive game in the Bulls’ Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Cavaliers is unrelated to Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving‘s decision to keep playing on a sprained right foot that has led to tendinitis in his left knee.

Gasol, 34, a savvy veteran of 10 NBA postseasons and 114 playoff games, is being cautious with an injury that, if aggravated, could lead to a much longer layoff. Irving, 23, has a whole eight postseason games under his belt, knows his team already is down one star (Kevin Love) and can’t fathom sitting out when teammates such as LeBron James (ankle) and Iman Shumpert (groin) are playing hurt.

“I can’t do it,” Irving told reporters at the Cavaliers’ facility Monday. “Mentally, I can’t do it. I can’t look myself in the mirror and sit on the bench or sit in the locker room while I watch my teammates go out there.

“I’d rather give 30 percent, 40 percent, rather than give none at all. I just literally can’t do it. I can’t sit on the bench and be hurt and be OK with that. And still, I still know I can be effective.”

That’s open to debate, with Irving shooting 5-for-23 the past two games, contributing a combined 23 points and two assists. And if his foot doesn’t heal quickly, the pain in his left knee could worsen, because that’s how compensating injuries work.

“We’ve tried almost everything to get this feeling right,” Irving said. “When the right-foot injury happened, what I was most nervous about is what’s happening now: my left leg just compensating for my right one. It’s just my body talking to me. My mind just has to be stronger, and it is. I’m just going to continue to will myself through these playoff games the best I can.”

Gasol has done only rehab work, nothing on the court, since exiting Game 3 and having his hamstring injury verified by an MRI exam Saturday. The skilled 7-footer scored 21 points in Game 1 of the series, taking advantage of Cleveland’s defensive inattention. The Cavs subsequently adjusted, holding Gasol to a combined 17 points on 6-for-15 shooting in Games 2 and 3.

But the Bulls still missed his knack for easy scores in the paint and his versatility to pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop with mid-range jump shots. Without Gasol as a threat, Cleveland was able to challenge other Bulls sources of offense, such as Mike Dunleavy (1-for-7), Taj Gibson (2-for-7) and Nikola Mirotic (1-for-9).

The offense endured a drought of nearly seven minutes in the second quarter when Chicago got outscored 16-0. Then, across the third and fourth quarters, the Bulls were outscored again over a span of seven minutes, 16-2.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau felt his players’ concentration in finishing plays and seeing the ball into the basket wasn’t sharp Sunday. “We’ve got to make shots,” Thibodeau said after Monday’s film session. “We missed a lot of open shots and we missed layups. And I thought late, we didn’t run. We’ve got to make sure that we run late. We got some good looks that we’ve got to make.”

No Gasol means smaller lineups for Cavaliers-Bulls in Game 4

VIDEO: What should we expect in Game 4 of Cavs-Bulls?

CHICAGO – Pau Gasol, the Chicago Bulls’ All-Star big man who suffered a strained left hamstring in Game 3 Friday night, won’t play Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Gasol still was sore and didn’t even try to warm up for the matinee game. He said, more than two hours before tipoff, he was “undecided” whether Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic or some other Bulls reserve would start in Gasol’s spot.

“We’ll see how it unfolds. We’ll see what the game tells us that we need,” Thibodeau said. “That’s the flexibility, whether we start Taj or Niko, the other guys, they’re all going to play a significant role.”

Cleveland coach David Blatt said that, since his team often uses smaller lineups (with LeBron James as the power forward and Tristan Thompson or pre-surgery Kevin Love as the center), the Cavaliers should be able to do well against a Bulls group missing the 7-foot Gasol. The Bulls had great production after Gasol got hurt Friday using Gibson and Mirotic together on their front line.

“They’ve played Mirotic at [power forward this season], more with Gasol or with [Joakim] Noah than perhaps with Taj,” Blatt said. “It should not be a difference-maker. In that case, I don’t think it’s a matter of who’s playing but how you’re playing.

“We’ve got to do a great job of continuing being active on defense and being focused on rebounding the ball. Mirotic is going to stretch the floor more, which means you’re flying around a good bit on the perimeter. Then you’ve got to really lock in on the rebounding aspect, because you’re not in normal positions. But that’s a lineup we should and can play well against.”

Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving has been dealing with a sprained right foot, an injury suffered early in the first round against Boston. After he rolled his right ankle in Game 3, the foot seemed to bother Irving more than in this series’ first two outings.

Thibodeau, who helped coach Irving for Team USA last summer, didn’t want to count on a key opposing player being less than 100 percent.

“At this time of the year, you know guys are getting nicked up,” Thibodeau said. “But as I said, I was around Kyrie in the summer. I saw him get bumped. The guy’s tough, he plays through thing. So I never underestimate that. If you let your guard down against a player like that, it doesn’t take much for him to get going.”

Bulls’ Gasol won’t play in Game 4

From staff reports

The Chicago Bulls have a 2-1 lead on the Cleveland Cavaliers in their Eastern Conference semifinal series, but if they hope to win Game 4 today (3:30 ET, ABC), they’ll have to do so without Pau Gasol.

In his pregame media address Sunday, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Gasol is still dealing with soreness from the hamstring injury he suffered in Game 3 and will not suit up today. Thibodeau wouldn’t reveal who will replace Gasol in the starting lineup, but veteran forward Taj Gibson or rookie forward Nikola Mirotic are the most likely candidates.