Posts Tagged ‘Zaza Pachulia’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 6

VIDEO: Day 1 Wrap: EuroBasket 2015


Colangelo looks ahead to 2016 | Nowitzki, Schröder lead German win on Day One of EuroBasket 2015 | Bonner looking beyond basketball | Philippines still working to add Clarkson

No. 1: Colangelo looks ahead to 2016 The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are about a year away, but USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo understands that it’s never too early to look ahead. Speaking with the Boston Globe‘s Gary Washburn, Colangelo looked forward to some of the USA’s most likely competition for a gold medal in Rio…

“Well, first of all, there’s a wave — just like the NBA — there’s a continual wave of new young players. Generally speaking, that’s true internationally also,” Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo said. “I think without question, you’d have to say Spain, if they get their players to perform and are healthy, despite the fact they are aging, they’re very formidable.

“Serbia is considered a very strong international team coming into this Olympic year. I think France is another team, age aside, there’s a lot of talent, and a big sleeper in the whole mix is Canada. Canada has some extraordinary, very good, fine young players and they’re going to be heard from. If it’s not ’16, it will be ’20.”

The Serbian team is led by Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica and Fenerbahce Ulker’s Bojan Bogdanovic. Depending on the status of Spurs guard Tony Parker for next year’s Games, France could be the stiffest competition with Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier, Rudy Gobert, and Joffrey Lauvergne.

Team Canada is loaded with young prospects such as Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Nik Stauskas, Andrew Nicholson, and Cory Joseph. The Canadians are currently vying to qualify for their first Olympic Games since 2000.

“If you’ve competed your whole life, you certainly understand that the wins yesterday are yesterday’s news,” Colangelo said. “All that matters is now. That’s a driver for all of us who are involved in USA Basketball. The culture that we’ve tried to build is very unique. We’re all very proud to represent our country.”

Colangelo, 75, has been the GM and owner of the Phoenix Suns, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and was critical in bringing the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix in the 1990s.

“As Americans we’re taking a lot of heat around the world and when you have a chance to represent your country on the international stage we take that very seriously,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with a long career in sports and a lot of success, but at this stage of my life, to be able to lead an organization that is doing all of what I just said, makes it special for me.

“Back in ’04 as I watched where we were, USA Basketball, some of the other countries really had togetherness, like Argentina, like Spain. That was something I thought we needed to develop. So developing a national team concept, stating that we had to change our culture and to see where we are, it makes you feel very good. There was a plan. Right now we’re on a roll.”


No. 2: Nowitzki, Schröder lead German win on Day One of EuroBasket 2015 EuroBasket 2015 tipped off yesterday in several cities across Europe, and in early action Germany froze Iceland behind 15-point games from both Dallas Mavericks’ forward Dirk Nowitzki and Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schröder. The Netherlands also made headlines as they knocked off Georgia on day one

Iceland outscored Germany 22-12 in the final quarter as Jon Steffansson topped all scorers with 23 points for the team considered an outsider in the tough Group B.

Nowitzki needed time to get into the game but also contributed seven rebounds. Schroder had six rebounds and four assists.

The group stage of the tournament is being played in four cities across the continent.

Poland beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 68-64 in Group A in Montpellier, France, the Netherlands stunned Georgia 73-72 in Group C in Zagreb, Croatia, and the Czech Republic routed Estonia 80-57 in Group D in Riga, Latvia.

Robin Smeulders sank a jumper with 18 seconds remaining to lift the Dutch to victory as they returned to the competition for the first time since 1989. Charlon Kloof led all scorers with 22 points. Georgia got 16 points from the Dallas Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia and Tomike Shengelia also added 16.

Jan Vesely led the Czech Republic with 16 points and eight rebounds.

Marcin Gortat, the Washington Wizards center, had 10 points and seven rebounds for Poland, while Adam Waczinski had 15 points. Andrija Stepanovic led Bosnia with 20.


No. 3: Bonner looking beyond basketball Matt Bonner may not rate extensive playing time with the San Antonio Spurs, but the role player understands his job and has won a couple of rings during his tenure in Texas. Now, as he enters his twelfth season, the always-interesting Bonner is showing he understands what’s required to continue a career in basketball beyond just playing the game, as our own Ian Thomsen writes

“I don’t have a set number of years that I’m going to play,” said Bonner, looking ahead to his upcoming 10th season with the Spurs — which will be his 12th in the NBA overall. “I’m going to play as long as I can play. With my skill set, as long as I’m healthy, I think I can keep playing. And I’m fortunate to play for an organization that values recovery and keeping guys healthy and extending careers.”

Bonner is 6-foot-10 and 235 pounds with three-point range (41.4 percent for his career, which ranks No. 15 in the NBA all-time), enabling him to stand up to big men defensively and create mismatches at the other end of the floor — the same formula that has enabled Robert Horry and others like him to play into their late-30s. But Bonner also has recognized that long-term plans evolve quickly, and that the future arrives with the furious speed of these young players who were stampeding back and forth across the Summer League court in July.

When the Spurs’ season ended with a loss to the Clippers in the opening round — the first time in four years that San Antonio hadn’t played into June — Bonner tried to take advantage of the silver lining. At age 35, he signed on for two of the several hands-on courses in the NBPA’s career development program.

Bonner was in Las Vegas to investigate a potential career in an NBA front office. Even as he studied these young players who were dreaming of the same kind of playing career that he had made for himself, Bonner found himself looking beyond. He wasn’t going to be able to play basketball for another 30 years, and at the same time he was too young to retire.


No. 4: Philippines still working to add Clarkson There are just a few weeks before FIBA Asia tips off, meaning time is running short for the Philippines to add Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson to their official roster, which would also require Clarkson missing some of Lakers training camp. But after meeting yesterday with Lakers execs Jeannie Buss and Mitch Kupchak, the Philippines officials feel like they have a better grasp on what’s needed to make it happen, writes Nelson Beltran in the Philippine Star

“It’s still a work in progress but with better clarity,” said SBP vice chairman Ricky Vargas after a meeting with Los Angeles Lakers team president Jeanie Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak in LA.

Vargas said the Lakers officials have no objection for Clarkson to play for the national team on a long-term program.

But a stint by Clarkson in the forthcoming Asian meet is subject to the approval of “the Lakers coaches” since it will run in conflict with the Lakers’ media day on Sept. 28 and the Lakers’ training camp in Hawaii on Sept. 29-Oct. 7.

In the Asian meet, Oct. 1-3 is set for the quarterfinals, semifinals and final.

“They requested some time to talk to the Lakers coaches,” said Vargas.

Accompanied by PBA board member Patrick Gregorio in a six-day whirlwind trip to Taipei, Hong Kong and the US, Vargas also announced a positive dinner meeting with the father of Jordan.

“(He’s) appreciative of reception his son received from the Filipino basketball fans and from Gilas Pilipinas team,” said Vargas of his talk with Mike Clarkson.

“They asked to review the arrangement and wanted assurance that we secure Lakers permission to allow him to skip three days of training camp,” Vargas also said.

“We go home tomorrow bringing with us a more positive feeling and a commitment from the Lakers and parents that Jordan will be part of Gilas program for the long term,” Vargas added.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Josh Powell is leaving his gig as an assistant with the Rockets to try and play for the Bucks next season … Nate Robinson is reportedly considering an offer from a team in ChinaSteph Curry says Riley Curry taught him how to dance

Blogtable: All-time, All Soviet Union/Russia NBA team

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


BLOGTABLE: Remembering “Chocolate Thunder | Can anyone beat USA in 2016? |
Name your all-time, All Soviet Union/Russia NBA team


VIDEO: The best of Arvydas Sabonis

>Former NBA standout Andrei Kirilenko has been elected president of the Russian Basketball Federation. Perfect time to ask you to name your all-time, All Soviet Union/Russian NBA team.

Steve Aschburner, Nobody told us there was going to be geography and geo-politics on this quiz. But here’s my best group of five: Kirilenko (Russia), Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Lithuania) and Zaza Pachulia (Georgia). The best of them likely was Sabonis, but he was an older, slower player by the time he reached the NBA with Portland at age 31. Loved his gruff exterior and his clever, Dan Quisenberry-like submarine passing.

Fran Blinebury,   I’m tempted to just go with the 1988 Olympic gold medalists, but have got to make room for the versatile AK-47 and the leading scorer from the infamous 1972 final over the U.S.

C : Arvydas Sabonis — We never saw him at the peak of his powers in the NBA.
F : Andrei Kirilenko — Slashing scorer, first-rate defender.
F : Aleksandr Volkov — Two so-so NBA seasons, but a force at PF for Soviet national team.
G : Sarunas Marciulionis — The feisty, aggressive guard opened the door for Europeans in the NBA.
G : Sergei Belov — Leading scorer in 1972 gold medal game, first international player voted into Naismith Hall of Fame.

Scott Howard-Cooper,  Fans of some of the former Soviet states won’t be happy — Arvydas Sabonis was Lithuanian, after all, and so on — but for purposes of the question:
C: Arvydas Sabonis
PF: Timofey Mozgov
SF: Andrei Kirilenko
SG: Sarunas Marciulionis
PG: Alexey Shved
If I’m missing anyone, and I can’t help but wonder I am, I hope they’re a guard. The frontline is the strength, especially Sabonis and Kirilenko as the top selections no matter the position. Sabonis is the best talent on the list, but in the context of NBA play, as the question says, Kirilenko is No. 1 after playing more years, playing better, and with his best seasons in the NBA. North American fans sadly mostly saw the injury-depleted Sabonis.

Shaun Powell, Sasha Volkov, Andrei Kirilenko, Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis, Timofey Mozgov. That’s my squad, with Sabonis the obvious choice as the Godfather of Soviet/Russian ball. Becky Hammon just misses the cut.

John Schuhmann, Picking the frontcourt is pretty easy: Kirilenko, Arvydas Sabonis and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. And I’ll go with Sarunas x 2 in the backcourt: Marciulionis and Jasikevicius, though the latter was a lot more fun to watch when he played for Lithuania than when he played for the Pacers and Warriors.

Sekou Smith,   Any team of this kind has to start with the great Arvydas Sabonis in the middle, flanked by Alexander Volkov and Kirilenko at the forward spots with the criminally underrated Sarunas Marciulionis in the backcourt alongside one of my all-time favorite big-moment competitors, Sarunas Jasikevicius. If Kirilenko had that kind of starting five to work with as president of the Russian Basketball Federation, he could ride the wave in that job for years.

Ian Thomsen, The old Soviet regime (unlike the former Yugoslavia) did not produce a lot of NBA guards, and neither has the Russian federation. So I am piecing together this team in faith that Sabonis and Ilgauskas could complement one another inside and outside, and that Kirilenko would have the skills and defensive versatility to shift to the backcourt when necessary.
C: Arvydas Sabonis
C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas
F: Alexander Volkov
F: Andrei Kirilenko
G: Sarunas Marciulionis

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: Well, Kirilenko is on my team, if only for that run he had in the 2000’s with the Jazz, when he was fully healthy and seemingly capable of posting a quadruple-double on any given night. We always heard that we in the U.S. never saw the best of Arvydis Sabonis, but even playing with injured knees in Portland, he was pretty great. Sarunas Marciulionis won gold with the USSR at the 1988 Olympics, and had a great run with the Golden State Warriors. How about my main man Sasha Volkov, who was one of the pioneers of the international movement to the NBA when he played for some of the Atlanta Hawks’ better early-‘90s teams? And if we’re picking one for the future, Timofey Mozgov is coming off an NBA Finals appearance and looks like he still has a lot of years left in him.

McGee makes way to Mavericks

JaVale McGee and the Mavericks have the same thing in common. Both are trying to jump-start themselves after recent setbacks.

So maybe they’re right for each other. Really, what does McGee have to lose by signing with the Mavericks, and vice versa? That’s what happened Thursday when a team short on big man and a center looking for a home — yet again — cut a deal.

This summer the Mavericks lost Tyson Chandler and in a sense, DeAndre Jordan as well. That left a void too difficult to fill, and so McGee is the next man up. It’s a low-cost, low-risk move for the Mavericks in case they decided to upgrade the position next summer through trades or free agency.

As for McGee, this represents another chance, and maybe a last chance, to gain traction in the league since falling off the map two years ago. Injuries took their toll and disrupted a decent career in Denver, where McGee was an athletic if goofy center with shot-blocking awareness. McGee was shipped to the Sixers, who had no use for him. All told, McGee played only 23 games last season and averaged 4.6 points and 2.7 rebounds. His competition in Dallas will be Zaza Pachulia and Sam Dalembert.

Report: Mavericks sign Dalembert

The Mavericks are still trying to fill in the big hole in the middle of their lineup caused by DeAndre Jordan’s reneging on a verbal free agent deal.

Dallas previously added 31-year-old center Zaza Pachulia in a trade with Milwaukee. Now the Mavs have signed Samuel Dalembert to a one-year contract for the veteran’s minimum, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Dalembert played for coach Rick Carlisle two years ago in Dallas, and will get an opportunity to play a significant role at center for the Mavericks.

Dalembert will join Zaza Pachulia, acquired in a deal with Milwaukee, as part of the Mavericks’ center rotation.

Dallas lost Tyson Chandler to Phoenix in free agency and was unable to persuade the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan to honor his verbal commitment in free agency and sign with the Mavericks.

Dalembert, 34, is fighting to reclaim his professional standing in the NBA and a return to the Mavericks could have a strong mutual benefit if he takes advantage of the opportunity.

Dalembert returns to the Mavericks, where he played 80 games in the 2013-14 season before Dallas sent him to New York as part of the Tyson Chandler trade. He averaged 6.6 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Mavericks.

Meanwhile’s Marc Stein is reporting the Mavericks are still not done adding big bodies. He says they still have interest in free agent center JaVale McGee and are closing in on a three-year contract with Salah Mejri of Tunisia, who has played for Real Madrid in Spain.

Blogtable, DeAndre Edition: Impact of his decision on the Mavericks?

In this special edition of the Blogtable, we’re asking our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the DeAndre Jordan free-agency saga — and give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Impact on Clippers? | Impact on Mavs? | What you’ll remember most?

VIDEODirk Nowitzki talks after the Mavs’ postseason ouster

> How does his change of heart affect the Mavericks, their offseason moves and the upcoming season? Where do they now rank in the West hierarchy?

Steve Aschburner, This is potentially devastating to Dallas, which won 50 games last season and now will be doing well not to lose 50. The options left among available big men are limited – Amar’e Stoudemire‘s name has come up, but he’s strictly a limited-minutes guy at this point, and neither Kevin Seraphin nor Josh Smith is a center, for those suggesting them. Owner Mark Cuban‘s “David Robinson year” remark might actually play out, and that’s tough to imagine for Dirk Nowitzki, coach Rick Carlisle and a few others. I am looking forward, though, to seeing Dallas sign Rick Mahorn and Charles Oakley to 1-day contracts for the first Clippers-Mavericks meeting this season. Just to dish out reminders to Jordan and a couple of his teammate-rescuers that this episode won’t soon be forgotten.

Fran Blinebury, The Mavericks are burnt toast for the 2015-16 season, another waste of one of Dirk Nowitzki’s last years and that’s the worst part of the flip-flop. Dallas is in the lottery, up to its 10-gallon hat. But I’m going on the record here as saying Mark Cuban will be thankful this happened in a couple of years. While Jordan is worth the price to the Clippers to keep him as the third wheel with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, he would have been badly exposed as Cuban’s so-called “franchise player” down the line. It was a bad joke to even mention him in the same breath as Shaquille O’Neal. I think Jordan might even have realized that himself and ran from that burden.

Scott Howard-Cooper, It’s a brutal outcome for the Mavs. It’s not like DeAndre Jordan turned them down and they implemented the fallback plan. By the time he had finished mishandling the situation at historical levels, they were scrambling for the fallback plan to the fallback plan. The Dallas front office began the offseason with a clear plan, executed it with precision… and then got it fell apart through no fault of anyone there. If Wesley Matthews comes back strong, the Mavericks will be around .500, respectable but not in the playoffs. And they will have a lot of people rooting for them.

Shaun Powell, I think there’s a silver lining to losing DeAndre. I always thought the Mavericks with him were nothing special … maybe a No. 6 or 7 team in the West. This way, they can get a jump on rebuilding and stash their millions for next summer and plan to transition from the Dirk Nowitzki era.

John Schuhmann, Dallas is where the Clippers were 24 hours ago. They have a strong starting lineup, with a huge hole at center. Unlike the Clippers, they have a lot of cap space. But while there are a lot of centers still available, they’re all back-up quality. So I could see them trading for Chris Andersen or Zaza Pachulia. As they stand, they’re in the 8-10 range in the Western Conference, with the health and recovery of Wes Matthews still being a big question.

Sekou Smith, This is the strange part for me — I didn’t think adding DeAndre was a gamechanger for the Mavericks. Sure, he would help shore up the middle. But without an elite point guard feeding him, I don’t know that he would have been a consistent force for the Mavericks on both ends of the floor. The Mavericks certainly don’t have any options comparable to DJ now, and that’s a potentially devastating blow for a franchise that is contemplating the dreaded rebuild. I don’t like the idea of Dirk Nowitzki on a lottery team in his twilight years, but in the absence of some miraculous move between now and training camp, that’s the predicament these guys could be in this season.

Ian Thomsen, The Mavericks are going to miss the playoffs, and they may lose their draft pick to the Celtics (unless it lands among the top seven) by way of the Rondo trade. The silver lining will emerge one year from now if they can turn Jordan’s absence into a superior free agent in 2016. But this interim season is going to be a long one for a team that figures to have no identity at either end of the floor.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog Without DeAndre, I’m not sure that they do rank among the West hierarchy. The Western Conference is so stacked, and if you’re looking for playoff teams that might drop out of the picture to make room for teams like Oklahoma City, Phoenix or Utah, I’d look directly at Portland (after losing LaMarcus Aldridge) and Dallas. Losing Monta Ellis will hurt, and while Wesley Matthews should be a nice addition, he’s still recovering from a torn Achilles. Jordan could have given them a nice frontline alongside Dirk and Chandler Parsons. Now they need Dirk to play like MVP Dirk. And I’m not sure that player still exists.

Horford savors Hawks’ breakthrough

VIDEO: Al Horford played hero for the Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

ATLANTA — Al Horford never put a timetable on it.

He wasn’t thinking that far ahead when the Hawks made him the third pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and he went from two-time college champion to starting center for a struggling outfit in Atlanta, where he knew enough to know that there would be no Final Fours and contending for titles right away.

Fast forward eight years and Horford and the Hawks are in the Eastern Conference finals with the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage, facing off against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to go to The Finals. To say this ride has been something of a roller coaster would be an understatement of epic proportions. And not just this stunning season, one that began with no one outside of the Hawks’ most die-hard of supporters believing this sort of dream season was possible, but the entire trip from the moment he arrived to now, the moment when he and the Hawks have truly arrived.

“I think you acknowledge it,” Horford said of the Hawks’ breakthrough to the conference final round for the first time in the franchise’s Atlanta history. “But then you move on and realize that is more work to be done. That’s what I did after Game 6 in Washington. It was like, ‘man, that’s good but we still want more and we are still looking forward to the next round.'”

The compressed schedule for mountain climbing in college makes it much easier to get caught up in the moment at that level. Superstar players spend one, maybe two and rarely three seasons on campus before departing for the adventure that is professional basketball. Horford did not enter Florida as a guaranteed pro, a surefire one-and-done prospect headed for the top of the Draft. His journey was different.

And he knew that from the start. That’s what made winning back-to-back titles with the Gators so great. Same goes for a NBA career that began with him being selected behind Greg Oden and Kevin Durant eight years ago. The road to back to respectability for the Hawks has been an arduous one. The fact that it’s been paved on Horford’s watch, with his blood, sweat and perhaps a tear or two over the years, makes this moment even sweeter than you might imagine.

Once the youngster of the bunch — playing alongside Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia, Mike Bibby and others — Horford’s the seasoned veteran now. A three-time All-Star, he’s the one pointing the way for youngsters like Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, alongside fellow veterans and All-Stars Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and veteran swingman DeMarre Carroll. 

As much hard work as it takes to grind away this long before reaching the conference finals, it also takes a ton of patience to continue plugging away with all of the distractions, on and off the court, that came up along the way. The cast of characters has changed dramatically and there have been regime changes in the front office and coaching ranks. The one constant has been Horford and his undeniable work ethic and desire to be better this year than he was the year before.

“You’ve got to look at yourself as an individual and it depends on where your goals are,” he said. “I always wanted to be a better player. I always wanted to challenge myself. For me it’s just, I feel like the league is changing quickly and every year I want to make sure I can be better and to put my team into a position to be successful. That’s always my mindset, to make it a point of just getting better and not feeling content with what you have done.”

Horford has found a kindred spirit in Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, whose arrival before the start of the 2013-14 season ushered in a totally different program than what the Hawks were used to. The emphasis on player development and individual skill building became more than just operational procedure. It became a mission for all involved.

The results are obvious.

The best season in franchise history during the regular season. The breakthrough, finally, to the conference finals. And who know what else looms on the horizon in the next two weeks. There are children growing up in Atlanta who will identify Horford’s time with the Hawks as some of the greatest times in franchise history, from the flash of the Highlight Factory days to this trip to the NBA’s version of the Final Four and the matchup against LeBron, the face of a generation in the NBA.

“When you get to this point, if you want to be one of the best teams, you have to go through the best players and teams,” Horford said. “There are no shortcuts when you get to this stage of the season. We have a huge challenge in front of us, and we obviously don’t know for sure what’s going to happen, but I think this is the way you want to do things.”

Bulls count Mirotic in for Game 4

MILWAUKEE – From the OK-so-he’s-not-Willis-Reed-but… department, Chicago reserve forward Nikola Mirotic was a surprise addition to the Bulls’ active roster for Game 4 Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Mirotic, a 6-foot-10 rookie from Montenegro, had missed Game 3 Thursday with a bruised left knee and quadriceps strain after a skirmish while on the floor with Milwaukee’s Zaza Pachulia in Game 2 on Monday night. On Friday, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Mirotic still had done no running since the injury. But the 24-year-old got over to Bradley Center later in the day and showed marked improvement in his mobility.

“Actually he felt a lot better [Friday] too,” Thibodeau said before Game 4. “If he wasn’t good enough, he wouldn’t be playing. He was able to play 1-on-1 and stuff yesterday.”

Mirotic worked through some warm-up/rehab drills before the game and appeared to move fine. He was one of two Bulls players to appear in all 82 games in the regular season. His averages through the series’ first two games against the Bucks – 6.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in about 18 minutes – were a drop-off from the numbers he posted after March 1 (17.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg).

With the Bulls up 3-0 in the series, some observers assumed Mirotic might be held out longer to recuperate for a likely role in the conference semifinals. Being active didn’t guarantee he would play in Game 4, though Thibodeau said he’d have no trouble finding minutes for the valuable “stretch 4” forward.

“We’ll go back to our old rotation,” the Bulls coach said. “There’s enough for everybody.”

Bulls’ Mirotic likely out for Game 3

CHICAGO – Still hobbled by a left knee and quadriceps injury suffered Monday against Milwaukee, Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic has been ruled out of Game 3 when his team faces the Bucks again Thursday in their Eastern Conference their first-round series.

Mirotic did some light shooting and was limping better after the Bulls’ practice Wednesday – an encouraging sign in general but not enough to count him in for the next game. The Bulls sounded ready to proceed without the 6-foot-10 reserve from Montenegro, who picked up votes for both the NBA’s top rookie and Sixth Man awards.

“He adds a lot of versatility to our frontcourt,” Pau Gasol said. “The floor is gonna be more open when he’s out there because of his shooting ability. I’m sure we’re gonna miss some of his stuff. But at the same time, Taj [Gibson] is going to get a little more minutes. He needs to get going. We’re going to work with what we have, like we have been doing all season long.”

Mirotic, 24, averaged 6.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and about 18 minutes in Games 1 and 2, a dip from his regular-season numbers and definitely from the 17.7 ppg and 6.6 rpg he averaged after March 1. He suffered a strained quadriceps and a knee bruise during a tussle with Milwaukee center Zaza Pachulia late in a more physical Game 2, with Pachulia falling back onto Mirotic’s left leg.

Mirotic was one of two Bulls player to appear in all 82 regular-season games (Aaron Brooks was the other). He tied with Brooks for the team high in 3-point field goal attempts, while also ranking third in rebounds.

“It will be an adjustment,” forward Mike Dunleavy said. “He’s a unique player, so can’t really duplicate exactly what he does, but we’ve got guys that can fill in and hopefully hold down the fort.”

Said coach Tom Thibodeau, who has shrugged off injuries as bad or worse than Mirotic’s over the past several seasons: “We’re prepared both ways. That’s the way we have to go into every game. He could play in the next one. It could be two games. I don’t know how many games. He said he feels a lot better today than he did yesterday, which is a good sign.”

Mirotic takes pounding (thigh, knee, head) as Bucks-Bulls series gets physical

VIDEO: Things get more than chippy between Nikola Mirotic and Zaza Pachulia

CHICAGO – As accustomed as the Chicago Bulls have grown with injuries, there’s a Monty Pythonesque “Black Knight” vibe to them sometimes, with even significant ailments and breakdowns getting the “it’s only a flesh wound” treatment.

That’s why the concern over valuable reserve forward Nikola Mirotic after the Bulls’ Game 2 victory over Milwaukee Monday night exceeded the measured tone of the team’s official postgame injury update.

Mirotic, limping considerably afterward both as he left the court and back in the locker room, had suffered a left quadriceps strain and was to be “re-evaluated in the morning.” But the 6-foot-10 rookie who blossomed deep into the season as Chicago’s sixth-man option also had a noticeable knot on his knee. There were worries, too, that he might have a concussion after his skirmish on the floor with 2:48 left to play with Milwaukee’s Zaza Pachulia. The teams play again Thursday, with the Bulls holding a 2-0 lead as the best-of-seven series shifts to Milwaukee for the next two.

Mirotic didn’t talk with reporters and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had no further information when he met with the media afterwards. But teammate Pau Gasol did take stock of Mirotic’s hobbled state and didn’t appreciate Pachulia’s rugged work (and ejection) in a game that was much more physical than the series opener.

“Hopefully it won’t be anything serious,” Gasol said. “I think Zaza had a couple of bad plays, not basketball plays. He got penalized with technicals, but [the officials have] just got to protect players.”

Mirotic has averaged 6.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and about 18 minutes in his first two playoff games. That’s a dip from his regular-season numbers, certainly from the 17.7 ppg and 6.6 rpg he averaged after March 1. But Mirotic logged nine minutes in the fourth quarter Monday, a sign of Thibodeau’s trust and the Bulls’ needs for his multiple skills in closing games.

Morning Shootaround — April 20

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Sunday


Wise LeBron shows Cavaliers the way | Green downplays ‘scrimmage’ comments about Pelicans | Clippers rough up Spurs | Bulls expecting different Bucks in Game 2

No. 1: Wise LeBron shows Cavaliers the way — The man with all of the playoff experience in Cleveland set the tone for the home team Sunday. Yes, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love shined in their playoff debut. But wise old head LeBron James is the man who lit the path for his teammates and put the Cavaliers in control in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics. Joe Vardon of the Plain Dealer provides the details:

Fatherhood has been a theme for LeBron James throughout the course of this season.

James’ wife, Savannah, gave birth to the couple’s third child, daughter Zhuri, in October. So, naturally, that was a reason for James to talk about being a dad.

The topic came up again for more philosophical reasons; deep, philosophical issues like when to talk to his two sons about racism or whether or not it’s safe to let them play football.

Once, after a November win over Boston, James, 30, said his teammates were “like my kids” — a reference to the Cavaliers’ younger players learning the finer points of basketball the way his sons learn their school material.

Really, James has played the role of teacher all season, with varying degrees of success.

The thing about being a parent, though, is sometimes the lesson is taught by example. The Cavs’ 113-100 win over the Celtics in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round playoff series Sunday was that time for James.

When the ball went in the air Sunday, James became the franchise’s all-time leader with 72 playoff games. It was his 159th career playoff game, counting his four years and two titles with Miami, and during the game he surpassed Michael Jordan (1,022 assists) for the ninth-most playoff assists in league history.

By contrast, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Matthew Dellavedova – four players James relies on in some form — were playing their first-career playoff games.

James spoke to the team before the game about his first playoff game (more on that game later), but he needed to show them. Matched up defensively against former Ohio State standout Evan Turner, James hounded him over the game’s first five minutes. Once, the ball landed in Turner’s hands behind halfcourt, and James was so close to him that Turner could barely turn around.

Turner was trying to move along the perimeter, both with and without the ball, and James was stuck on his every step. Offensively, James scored on a layup in transition and got to the foul line twice. He registered two assists before his hand shot up with 6:45 to go – not even halfway through the first quarter – for coach David Blatt to give him a breather.

“LeBron really pushed himself early, almost to the point of forcing himself to hit that limit, come out, catch his second wind, and then play,” Blatt said. “I think he even did it on purpose.”

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