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Games of the Night: Where Derrick Rose had really good seats for the ending

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Knicks 120, Bulls 112: Bulls fans are going to get all over rookie coach Tom Thibodeau for not putting Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah back in when the team was on a run and pulled within nine late. Instead, the Bulls two best players sat the entire end of the contest.

That was not where this game was lost. We’ll get to the ending and talk about it, but be clear that the Bulls lost this game a lot earlier.

The Knicks put up 70 on the Bulls and whatever that was Chicago playing when the New York had the ball in the first half. Most teams call it defense, but that’s not what it looked like to me, if you let guys get to the rim and give them open threes I don’t know what you call it when you give up 132.1 points per 100 possessions like the Bulls did in the first half.

Part of it was the tempo — that pace the Knicks played at in the first half is where they need to be all the time. The 13 turnovers by the Bulls in the first half helped fuel that.

Then there was the Knicks outside shooting. Yes, the Bulls didn’t defend the arc well, but for the game New York hit two/third of their deep bombs. It was just one of those nights. Danilo Gallinari was 4-4, Toney Douglas 5-9, Raymond Felton 4-6. The Knicks just had it going.

Chicago was down 18 at the half. That is when they lost the game, not the last five minutes.

But about those minutes. The Bulls really hadn’t gotten closer in the second half. They slowed the tempo down, they scored a little more, but the three ball was falling and that kept the Bulls at arm length.

Then a run came with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah on the bench. The Bulls went on a 10-0 run that cut it to nine. The crowd was up and there was hope with 4:30 left and a time out.

Thibodeau did not put Rose and Noah in at that point. I can live with that decision, with rewarding the hot hands. But they have to be on a short leash now — your stars are your stars for a reason and crunch time is when you use them. It’s not all about the bench guys’ egos.

Maybe he could have put everone back in when Galinari hit another three at 4 minutes, but then Korver answered with a leaning three. Still 9 points down with 3:30 left. Now had to be the time. But no.

Then Wilson Chandler beat Taj Gibson in straight away isolation and got the layup. The Knicks lead was 11 and you were thinking the Bulls maybe can do it with one more spark. Maybe someone like Noah who would have been there to help protect the rim when Chandler came in.

Then Stoudemire blocked a Gibson dunk, which leads to the Knicks in transition and Felton wide open pull up three. And then it’s over. It’s too late.

The timing on these things and decisions are hard, and for all his experience as an assistant this is Thibodeau’s first time in the big chair. He gets some slack. But don’t think his decision cost the team the game.

Thunder 108, Trail Blazers 107 (OT): It wasn’t pretty, but credit Oklahoma City — the Southern California to Portland back-to-back is brutal. Most teams lose the back end of this, most teams fade down the stretch. Oklahoma City came from behind then won in overtime.

Maybe this was a turn-the-corner win for the Thunder. This was a team that got blown out by the Jazz and the Clippers — the Clippers?!? — and then looked bad for much of this game.

There offense seemed to have become  isolations or high screens, with everybody is just standing around on the weakside. Not like they were last year at all. The defense was worse. They were giving up easy shots at the rim all night and acted like they had never seen a backdoor cut before. The bigger issue was the lack of consistent effort. One of those effort down times was in the second quarter when Portland put up 35 points hitting 16-22. AT the half Portland’s offensive rating was  a ridiculousluy good 126.1.

But good teams find a way to win on bad nights. Oklahoma City is a good team.

Portland fans, it happens. Tough loss to swallow, but it happens. It’s hard to put away a team like the Thunder even when the are playing poorly because Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are exceptional and dynamic.

You can second guess this one all you want in Portland, but there will be games like this again. It happens. Can they learn and move on and improve is the question.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.