NBA Playoffs: It took five games, but Bulls play like contenders

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This looked like what we all expected this entire series to look like.

The Chicago Bulls dominated Game 5 Tuesday game from the start, were up 11 at the end of one quarter, pulled away in the third quarter and cruised to a 116-89 win. Now they sit around until next Monday (when the NBA says that series will start) and let Stan Van Gundy and Larry Drew fight to get off the hot seat.

The Pacers had kept the games in this series close by playing good defense, trapping Derrick Rose and using Paul George to limit him, and daring any other Bull to step up and beat them.

Finally the Bulls broke through Tuesday. Rose had 25 on 8-of-17 shooting and got a lot of those points against George — ankle problem? what ankle problem? — while Luol Deng had 24 points on 14 shots. The Bulls as a team shot 48.2 percent. More importantly, they shot 45.2 percent from three and hitting a franchise record 14 three pointers. In the end the Bulls averaged 123.4 points per 100 possessions, 19 points better than their season average.

Meanwhile, the Bulls kept on playing the defense that made them the No. 1 overall seed, with the Pacers shooting just 39.2 percent on the night.

You know things are going well for Chicago when Kyle Korver dunks.

The Bulls stretched out to a 10-point lead early on and the lead pretty much it hung around that number through the second quarter. Then in the third quarter the Bulls pulled away again, getting up by about 20, and from there we pretty much all knew it was about to end.

Maybe it got a little bit interesting was right at the start of the fourth quarter when Rose picked up his fifth foul. Of course, the Bulls were up 19, so there wasn’t that big a concern. The Pacers were looking for offense and went with a smaller lineup. Didn’t help.

The Pacers exposed some questions about the Bulls and their ability to score consistently in the playoffs that are going to have to be answered in the next couple rounds. Against better defenses.

For Indiana, there are a lot of big questions. They start with is Larry Bird coming back as president. Then, do you bring back interim head coach Frank Vogel, who certainly had the team playing better in his stint at the end of the season and into the playoffs. The offense opened up and there was a lot more defensive energy. But that is different than saying he’s a head coach.

The bigger question for the Pacers is how to step forward — this is a team stuck in the NBA’s quicksand of a middle ground. They are good enough to make the playoffs some years but never challenge. But they are not bad enough to fall down deep in the standings and try to find salvation in the lottery. A Los Angeles and New York can draw big free agents to get them out of that quicksand, Indiana cannot (not easily anyway).

So how do they move forward? They have some nice role players, but how do they get the stars to go with Danny Granger and make it a winner?

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.

Veteran NBA official Monty McCutchen to be head of referee development, training

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After 25 seasons running up and down the NBA hardwood and refereeing more than 1,400 games, NBA official Monty McCutchen got a promotion.

He officiated his last game Thursday night in Minnesota and will move to a desk at the league office where his new title is Vice President, Head of Referee Development and Training.

“Monty has earned the respect of players, coaches and his peers during an exemplary career as an NBA official,” said Senior Vice President, Head of Referee Operations Michelle D. Johnson (who started on the job in October).  “He understands as well as anyone what it takes to be an outstanding referee and how the league can best support its officials.  With his wealth of insight and experience, Monty is uniquely suited for a leadership role in our officiating program.”

“I’m excited for the opportunity to channel my passion for the officiating profession in a new way,” McCutchen said.  “While I’ll miss officiating games, I’m grateful to continue working with our incredibly talented referee staff as part of an organization so dedicated to excellence and innovation.”

Despite what some fans like to blast on Twitter (especially during the playoffs), NBA officials are the best trained and flat-out best basketball referees in the world (if you don’t think so, watch the college/scab referees from the last lockout of the refs, it was painful). Could they improve? Sure. Hopefully, McCutchen can help do that in his new position.