NBA Playoffs: The Chicago Bulls played their best, and it was still not enough

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LeBron_game4.jpgA harsh reality landed upon the Chicago Bulls Monday night — The Bulls played their best; their best was not good enough. They made the right decisions, they scrapped and fought inside, they played with passion.

And they lost. The final score was 112-102, and that 10-point margin is how much the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled away in the fourth quarter with their superior talent.

Joakim Noah loves to talk, but he keeps backing it up like this on the court and he can run his mouth all he wants. He had a team high 25 points on 10 of 18 shooting, plus pulled down 13 rebounds. He, along with a feisty Luol Deng (who also brought it hard for the night) were at the heart of a Bulls effort inside that included 13 offensive boards and 19 second chance points. They were at the heart of a smaller Bulls front line that helped outscore the Cavaliers 56-38 in the paint.

The Bulls also didn’t turn the ball over (just four for the whole game) and they made the extra pass on offense, and 61 percent of their baskets came off assists.

And they lost. Mostly because of LeBron James.

In the end, the game is about shooting the basketball. The Bulls simply don’t do that well, they haven’t all season — on the season they shot 47.7 percent (eFG%, which counts a bonus for three pointers made, just like the scoreboard does), that was 28th in the league. The only teams that shot worse than the Bulls this season were New Jersey and Detroit. It’s a testament to how hard they played that they overcame that shooting, both Monday night and on the season.

Cleveland, on the other hand, can shoot the ball (third best shooting team in the league). While the Bulls shot 44 percent overall and 31 percent from three in the game, the Cavaliers shot 56 percent and 50 percent from three. Do that and you win pretty much every time.

LeBron had 40 points, 15 of those in the decisive fourth quarter. While he had some plays at the rim — James Johnson, just stay out of the way next time — LeBron hit 9 of 16 on jump shots. He took four three-pointers and made two. When his outside shot is falling, he is inhuman.

But this wasn’t just the LeBron James show — he sat to start the fourth quarter and the Cavs started to pull away without him. Antawn Jamison hit a pretty little floater, Delonte West had an and-1 play. Even after LeBron returned and started doing LeBron things, other guys made plays. Like Anderson Varejao hitting a clutch jump shot late — if you’re Chicago you forced the Cavs to take the shot you wanted them to, and they hit it. What can you do? Also, Jamario Moon was hitting big threes all night long.

Bottom line is Cleveland is better than Chicago. Intellectually everyone knew that going in, but last night was the revelation of that fact on a gut level. The Bulls may pull out a game as the series shifts to the city with the best pizza in the nation, but last night showed us how this series will end.

LeBron James finishes left-handed alley-oop with head behind backboard

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We have reached the point with LeBron James and his legendary career that the incredible almost seems ordinary — he has made our jaws drop so many times it’s hard for him to clear the bar of amazing anymore.

He did Saturday night against Utah.

In transition, LeBron gave up the ball to Jeff Green, who returned the favor with an alley-oop pass. Just not a particularly good one, it was behind James.

So he reaches back with his left hand and throws it down as he ducks his head under the backboard. Then LeBron stops and stares at his left hand, like he can’t believe what he just did.

We can’t either.

Carmelo Anthony standing ovation in return to Madison Square Garden

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Knicks fans may have had their frustrations with Carmelo Anthony, but they know how much he has meant to the franchise over the years. He pushed to be a Knick and chose to stay, he carried the franchise for years.

Saturday night he returned to Madison Square Garden in an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform after a trade this summer, and he was welcomed with a retrospective video followed by a standing ovation from the crowd (you can see all of it above).

Well done Knicks fans. Well done.

Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will not travel with team for 25 days due to legal issue

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The Lakers’Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed his new team’s first two games this season due to a suspension for a DUI case in Michigan.

But that was not all. Caldwell-Pope’s came with probation, and to get out of it early the Lakers’ forward has to go through an intensive rehab program — one that does not allow him to leave California with the team for 25 days. He did not play against the Cavaliers and that is just the first of multiple games he will miss, a story broken by Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Caldwell-Pope was originally cited for operating a vehicle while intoxicated but pleaded guilty in May to the lesser charge of allowing someone to operate his vehicle while under the influence, which carried a 12-month probation.

On Thursday, Caldwell-Pope had to return to California to begin an intensive program over the next 25 days that will result in some travel restrictions and could cause him to miss additional games but will end his probation early.

The Lakers are in a home heavy part of their schedule, and by my calculations KCP would only miss one or two games (for sure against Houston Dec. 20, then maybe against Golden State Dec. 22, but that is in California). The Lakers next road game after that is Dec. 31 in Houston again.

Caldwell-Pope signed a one-year, $18 million deal with the Lakers last offseason, and he has gone on to become one of the few reliable three-point shooters on the team, hitting 36.1 percent from beyond the arc, taking 6.1 shots from there a game. He’s been solid on defense and a player the Lakers’ need, although his overall efficiency is closer to average.

If the Lakers are successful with their big game hunting during free agency next summer, Caldwell-Pope will not return to the team. In a tight free agent market, he may once again not see offers near what he sees himself worth next summer. That said, his play in Los Angeles has been good. And now he will not have this legal issue hanging over his head during free agency.

LeBron James is good with televising All-Star team selections

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From the moment the NBA announced changes to the All-Star Game team selection format for this season, most NBA fans — as well as most media members I know — have wanted a live team selection show.

As a reminder, this year (as in past years) fans will vote for their favorite All-Stars, and those votes will be combined with media and player votes to name the five starters from each conference. Then the coaches will vote to select the teams.

What’s different is the top vote-getters from each conference — let’s be honest, it will be LeBron James in the East and Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant in the West — will be named captains and they will then pick their teams from the pool of other selected players. No East vs. West. If LeBron gets to choose first and he picks James Harden, then Harden is on that team. Curry can go second and select Giannis Antetokounmpo or whoever he wants from the starters pool, then the captains move into the reserves pool. Old-school playground style team picking.

Who wouldn’t tune it to watch that selection show?

The NBA officially has not decided yet if the selection process will be broadcast, but it probably won’t be. The reason is some player is not going to like being picked last (or next to last) and his agent will like it less. It gets political (would Curry have to choose Durant or Draymond Green first to keep his teammates happy?).

LeBron basically said Saturday why not televise it? From Nick Friedell of ESPN, when LeBron was asked if it would bother him to go against teammates in the All-Star Game:

“I hope not,” James said after Saturday’s shootaround. “We’re all grown men. It doesn’t stop their paycheck from coming. It won’t stop you from playing time once the season starts.”

And is he good with the pick order being made public or done live.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” James said. “It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, if I’m rewarded to be a part of the All-Star Game again, that’s cool for me. It doesn’t matter. All that other stuff is extracurricular.”

That’s the right attitude, and whoever got picked last would say that publicly. But privately… who knows? Depends on the guy.

That selection show would be must-watch television. The NBA needs to broadcast this. But it won’t. Politics will win out.