NBA Playoffs: Back in sweet home Chicago can Bulls extend series?

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In one key way, the Eastern Conference Finals have been a lot like the Western Conference Finals — it has been about the fourth quarter.

Miami has turned up the defensive pressure late and the Bulls have wilted in the final stanza. In the fourth quarter of the last three games the Bulls have shot 32.7 percent and been outscored 64-47. The fourth quarter is when LeBron James has switched on to Derrick Rose and the result is Rose shooting 2-of-11 in the last three fourth quarters combined.

Desperate and down 3-1 and heading back home for an elimination game, look for the Bulls to have a better fourth quarter, to finally close out a game well. They had better, or this series is over.

Back at home, look for the Bulls role players to feel more comfortable and play better. For one, expect Taj Gibson has to give the Bulls more, both on defense and in transition. Also Kyle Korver has to hit a shot — the Bulls still need to knock down some threes and long twos to make the Heat pay for packing the paint on them.

Expect to see the same out of the Heat bench we saw last game — Erik Spoelstra has gone to a tight eight-man rotation with Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller being the only guys seeing big minutes off the bench. Both have played well but can that continue under pressure on the road? Probably, especially with Haslem, who has been what the Heat needed inside. The Bulls need to force Miami deeper into that bench by getting some guys in foul trouble, either by the penetration of Rose or some other guys stepping up.

One interesting matchup to watch is Joakim Noah over on Chris Bosh — something the Bulls made a priority of in Game 4 (and should have worked harder to do in earlier games rather than letting him get switched off so easily). Bosh has been the best Heat player in a couple games, doing a great job of mixing midrange shots with drives, and if he is again the Bulls will not be headed back to Miami.

At some point soon, Dwyane Wade is going to go off. He has not looked himself this series and was doing a lot of extra shooting and work Wednesday. If Game 5 is when he does go off there will be no Game 6.

On the flip side, who is going to take the pressure off Rose? Carlos Boozer you say? Well, they need him. But they need someone to create their own shot and be a better outside shooter in this series. Miami has been able to pack the paint and wall off Rose because they do not fear the outside shot of the Bulls. That is particularly true in the fourth quarter.

The Heat are the better team and they have closed games better. But this is still a close series — Rose drains that fadeaway over LeBron and this series is even. That’s not how it went down, but these two teams are close. Close enough that the Bulls have hope — win Game 5 at home, steal one on the road and suddenly it’s one game for all the marbles.

But to get there, the Bulls need to be desperate. They need to knock down shots. And they need to close out the fourth quarter better. Because you know the Heat will.

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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Did Russell Westbrook get mad at Steven Adams for not taking potential triple-double-clinching shot? (video)

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Russell Westbrook chases triple-doubles.

That hardly makes him unique. He’s just close enough to the feat more often than other players, so he chases them more often.

But he still chases them.

Late in the Thunder’s 108-91 win over the Warriors last night, Westbrook was heading toward his final line of 34 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. His teammates shot off his passes on three of Oklahoma City’s final four possessions before he took a seat (including one assist). The exception came when he passed to Steven Adams, who passed rather than shoot – clearly upsetting Westbrook.

Was Westbrook mad because he missed his chance at a triple-double? Maybe.

Was Westbrook mad because Adams passed as the shot clock neared expiration? Maybe.

It could be both!

Watch Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on Golden State’s bench. They clearly found something funny.

Report: Teams are calling Clippers about DeAndre Jordan trades

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Injuries have ravaged the Clippers. They started the season 4-0 have been without three starters from opening night: Milos Teodosic (plantar fascia injury, he is still in a walking boot), Danilo Gallinari (strained left glute), and now point guard Patrick Beverley is out for the season after microfracture surgery on his knee.

All this has led to the Clippers losing nine in a row before beating the Hawks Friday night. All the weight of the offense has fallen on Blake Griffin‘s shoulders, and while he’s been good most of the game in the fourth quarter his numbers have plummeted, and the Clippers have stumbled.

It’s left the Clippers with a couple of hard questions.

Do they need a coaching change? There was a sense from sources around the league that Rivers is already on his way out — he was stripped of GM/president powers over the summer — and what kept him around was the couple of seasons at $10 million a year on his contract. That’s a lot of money for an owner to eat, even Steve Ballmer, but the time may be coming as a way to shake up the team.

The other, what to do with DeAndre Jordan? They could not work out a contract extension with him (Jordan was acting as his own agent), and one of the league’s top traditional centers is a free agent next summer, but new head basketball guy Lawrence Frank said they want Jordan to be a “Clipper for life.” Does Jordan want to be a Clipper for life? Do the Clippers really want him back, and if so at what price? Does a Clipper franchise trying to get approvals for a new arena in Inglewood want to rebuild now, because it does not help that process? If it’s time to move on and rebuild, do they need to trade him now?

Teams are calling about Jordan, reports Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

DeAndre Jordan, who can become a free agent after the season, has been coming up in trade conversations, with multiple teams talking potential trades. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank said last month that Jordan will be a “Clipper for life,” muddled matters, as does the limited number of teams who need a center and the size of Jordan’s contract ($22.6 million).

Jordan is an All-NBA center, a defensive force in the paint who sets a strong pick, rolls hard to the rim, can finish with the best of them, and is averaging 10.4 points (scoring and attempts are down without Chris Paul feeding him) and 13.4 rebounds a game. Jordan knows who he is and plays within himself.

It’s not hard to imagine how he could help teams such as Cleveland, Washington, Milwaukee, and a host of others. The question is what would teams be willing to give up to get him — they have to send back salary to match, but will not want to give up assets that help them win now. The Clippers will be looking for good young players and picks back in the package, which makes it hard for a team such as Cleveland to put together a package.

But before they discuss trade scenarios, the Clippers need to figure out what they want to do. Life has come at them fast this season and led to a lot of big-picture questions that Frank and Ballmer need to answer.

Lonzo Ball finishes one-handed alley-oop on Willie Cauley-Stein (video)

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So much attention is paid to Lonzo Ball‘s father, jumper and passes. Those are the major storylines for the Lakers rookie.

But he has such a diverse skill set, and this is absolutely part of it. Ball is a savvy off-ball cutter in the halfcourt with the athleticism to get above the rim and finish alley-oops.

But finish them over 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, who was tracking the play (though slightly late)? That’s an eye-opener, even in the Kings’ 113-102 win.