Bulls make it clear — right now they are better than Celtics

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If Chicago and Boston meet in the playoffs, it will be in the second half of May. Conference finals time. Things can change and evolve in a month.

But right now Chicago is the better team.

Clearly. And they enter the playoffs with a lot of confidence.

It wasn’t just that they beat Boston Thursday night 97-81, it was how. (See the highlights here.)The Bulls were the more active and physical team on defense. They were the better three point shooting team (Boston just 2-10 as the Bulls chased them off the arc, Chicago was 9-22). Boston’s defense had no answer for Derrick Rose (30 points on just 16 shots), and his slashing led to Boston getting more points in the paint, too.

The Bulls dominated the game.

Chicago put up 14 more points per 100 possessions than Boston normally allows. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau finds an offensive mismatch and he will beat it into the ground. It’s things like Carlos Boozer not having a great night (14 points on 16 shots) but Chicago recognizing that when Jeff Green was on Carlos Boozer the smaller Green could not contain him, so the Bulls fed the ball to Boozer until Boston adjusted.

Virtually everyone on Rose is a mismatch, and Boston could not protect the rim against him. And that is where the Kendrick Perkins question is — Boston fans were tweeting it all game.

Just to add fuel to that fire, Chicago’s Brian Scalabrine said before the game to CSN Chicago that no Perkins made the Bulls more confident.

“For us, Perkins was an intimidating factor at the rim,” Scalabrine told Comcast SportsNet prior to tonight’s game. “Kevin (Garnett) and Perkins out there, that’s a big deal.”

Perkins might well have helped some, but what the Celtics really needed was a scoring threat in the post and Perkins would not have provided that. They needed Shaquille O’Neal, who changes that equation because he can score thereby by pulling in defenses so Ray Allen and others can get better looks at threes. Shaq can still do that even at this stage of his career.

Rose certainly won the point guard battle against Rondo, as the Celtics center had just 7 points. But that was as much or more about Rondo taking himself out than what Rose did. Things Rondo can normally succeed at fell short.

Boston also needed transition points on the Bulls. Both of these teams can be too good defensively if you let them set. But the Celtics walked it up all night. Chicago was there waiting.

The game means Chicago is just one win (or one Boston loss) away from securing the top seed in the East. That is a done deal. The loss also ties Boston with Miami and sets up a huge showdown Sunday with the second seed in the East almost on the line.

As for Thursday night, it was not just one thing. It was a lot of things and the Bulls won pretty much every one that mattered. They were the better team by far.

And if these two team meet again in a month Boston is going to have to make some strides if they are going to compete.

Quinn Cook signing two-year contract with Hawks

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The Hawks began last season with just two point guards, one fewer than most teams – especially notable because neither starter Dennis Schroder nor backup Malcolm Delaney was experienced for his role.

Schroder and Delaney return, but Atlanta is adding another option – Quinn Cook.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Cook is a borderline NBA player. He might not make the regular-season roster. He also might supplant Delaney for a rotation spot.

A 24-year-old who has spent most of the last two years in the D-League (also getting stints with the Mavericks and Pelicans), Cook is a good outside shooter. He’s also steady, if unspectacular, in his lead-guard duties.

This is a solid flier at a position the Hawks could use depth.

Knicks sign Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Jamel Artis

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The Knicks signing Nigel Hayes leaked first.

But New York didn’t stop there.

Knicks release:

The New York Knickerbockers announced today that the team has signed forwards Jamel Artis and Nigel Hayes and guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes.

Like Hayes, Artis (Pittsburgh) and Rathan-Mayes (Florida State) went undrafted this year – making them eligible to be waived and assigned to the Knicks’ minor-league affiliate. That’s likely all three’s fate.

But first, each will have an opportunity to make the regular-season roster. The Knicks have just 14 players with guaranteed salaries, leaving one roster spot for someone on a standard contract. Chasson Randle (unguaranteed) is the incumbent choice, but these three could supplant him.

O.J. Mayo says abusing prescription painkillers triggered NBA ban

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Last year, O.J. Mayo was banned from the NBA for at least two years due to a drug violation. Aside from stating a plan to come back, Mayo didn’t say much publicly.

Until now.

Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

He acknowledged smoking marijuana and abusing a prescription pain medication that triggered his two-year ban because it is on the NBA’s “drugs of abuse” list. (He emphatically denied testing positive for hard drugs like cocaine.)

Mayo also concluded that he had been “overwhelmed” by a string of difficult life events: his father, high school basketball star Kenny Ziegler, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for distributing crack cocaine, his brother was placed in juvenile lock-up, a close friend went to jail, and another was killed. “I was bred to play basketball and I thought I could balance everything,” he said. “I couldn’t.”

That’s part of an interesting feature on Mayo, who’s training for his come back. Golliver’s story makes it easy to pull for Mayo.

But the guard will be 30 when he’s eligible to apply for reinstatement, and he played lousily in his last three seasons with the Bucks.

Hopefully, Mayo has and keeps his personal life in order. But returning to the NBA will be an uphill battle.

James Harden throws alley-oop to Chris Paul, pair puts on show at Houston charity event

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What chemistry problem?

There are legitimate questions about how Chris Paul and James Harden will share the backcourt and ball with the Rockets, but none of those were on display on Sunday. That’s when CP3 joined his new teammate in Harden’s charity game (raising money for Harden’s charity, which helps children from single-family homes get a higher education), a kind of pro-am with some names thrown in to draw a crowd.

Harden and CP3 put on a show for the fans.

This is a charity event, not every team is going to defend like this or the Phoenix Suns. It’s going to be harder when the games matter.

But the Rockets are going to be entertaining to watch this season. No doubt.