D-Rose matters, but depth real key in Bulls/Heat showdown

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Everyone will want to watch the Bulls and the Heat and discuss how this is a preview of the Eastern Conference finals. It’s not.

Oh, these two teams will be there, you can bet on that. But after two rounds of the playoffs teams change and evolve — the Bulls and Heat that take the floor Thursday will be different than the ones that could face off about a month from now as the last two standing in the East.

Especially if Derrick Rose and Luol Deng don’t play Thursday. They are both game-time decisions as of this writing. Of course, the Bulls beat the Heat last Thursday because of their depth and defense, the two things that might matter more this Thursday than D-Rose.

Depth was the key Thursday when they clashed — Chicago’s bench outscored Miami’s 47-7. Shane Battier was a -34, Ronny Turiaf -17. One game +/- numbers can be misleading, but the Bulls depth was what won that game — Rose was rusty so Tom Thibodeau benched him for the overtime and the rest of the Bulls racked up the win. It didn’t matter what five were on the court, the Bulls moved the ball well, took 24 percent of their shots as spot-up jumpers and knocked the looks down. Kyle Korver was on fire, coming off baseline screens and moving to open spaces when his man had to help, he got and knocked down open looks all game. That is a formula Chicago can simply plug Rose into.

This game is not meaningless — it does matter for seedings. If the Bulls win, they lock up the top seed in the East. If the Heat win, they keep alive a chance of catching the Bulls for the top seed in the East. With a Heat win Chicago’s magic number would be three. Meaning basically the Heat would have to win out, the Bulls would have to lose their upcoming game against the Pacers and at least one more … all of which is to say it’s not likely.

Of course, the other question is do you want to be the top seed in the East? If you are you get a Sixers team in the first round that is easier than the seven seed Knicks (that’s the most likely matchups). However, the top seed also is on the Celtics side of the bracket for the second round. The Heat have lost a couple to Boston, although if anyone thinks Indiana is a pushover they haven’t been paying attention.

Whatever seed they want, the Heat have talked about trying to gain momentum heading into the playoffs, about executing better in the half court. Those are things they can come out of this game feeling a little better about. No statements are going to be made, but confidence can be found and built upon. And when they do meet, that feeling could matter a lot.

Sprained ankle has LeBron James questionable for opener vs. Celtics

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James‘ playing status for Tuesday’s season opener against Boston remains unclear.

James has been slowed by a sprained left ankle for more than two weeks and it’s still not known whether he’ll be on the floor when the Cavaliers take on the Celtics and Kyrie Irving, who asked to be traded by Cleveland this summer.

Following Monday’s practice, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said “I really don’t know” when asked if James will play.

James took part in some post-practice shooting drills with teammates. He did not speak with the media as the Cavaliers prepared for their opener, a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals.

James has never missed an opener in his NBA career, and teammate J.R. Smith doesn’t expect him to miss this one.

“Oh, he’s going to go,” Smith said. “He’s going to go, trust me that. I don’t care what he’s got to do, he’s going to play.”

 

Report: Richard Jefferson signing with Nuggets

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Update: The Nuggets will waive Jameer Nelson, according to Wojnarowski:

It looks like Denver will ride with the younger Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay at point guard — a risky proposition. Nelson stabilized the position in the event Murray or Mudiay weren’t ready for bigger roles. The Nuggets aren’t hedging their bets now, which puts plenty of pressure on Murray and Mudiay.

Murray should be fine eventually. Mudiay’s promise is far less certain. But this is a team trying to reach the playoffs now, and it might have to ride out growing pains from its point guards without Nelson as a safety net.

 

Richard Jefferson became a late entrant into free agency when the Cavaliers traded him and the Hawks waived him.

But the forward is landing on his feet.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Jefferson could help the Nuggets, who look primed to end a four-season playoff drought. They were set to squeeze backup small-forward minutes behind Wilson Chandler out of the undersized Will Barton and oversized Juan Hernangomez. Jefferson is far more comfortable at the position.

He’s 37 and doesn’t offer long-term upside, but he’s a savvy defender and still pretty athletic. He picks his spots well enough offensively to help on that end, too.

But Denver also has a deep roster that already had 15 players on standard contracts. There’s not an obvious cut to make room for Jefferson, though the Nuggets clearly have something planned.

Sixers to keep Joel Embiid’s minutes in teens to start season, he’s not happy

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Joel Embiid wants to get on the court, he wants to unleash himself on the NBA this season. After three seasons of being bottled up — even in the 31 games he has played there was a minutes restriction — Embiid wants to impose his will on the league.

He’s going to have to do that in less than 20 minutes a night, at least to start the season.

Sixers coach Brett Brown says to start the season there will be a tight minutes limit on Embiid, who averaged less than 15 minutes in two preseason games after finally being cleared to play. Embiid does not like that. Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia has the quotes.

“I don’t really know if there’s a solid number,” Brett Brown said Monday after practice. “I can tell if you were to choose a number, it’s somewhere in the teens.”

“I didn’t know about that, but that’s very disappointing,” Embiid said Monday of the minutes restriction. “I feel great and hopefully that changes based on today’s practice and tomorrow’s practice.”

The Sixers being cautious with Embiid is about as surprising as the last Transformers movie sucking.

That said, if any particular game is close going into the fourth quarter don’t be shocked if Embiid breaks his minutes limit — this is a team that wants to start winning, and that means keeping their best players on the court longer. If Saturday night against the Raptors Brett Brown thinks giving Embiid 22-23 minutes helps get them the win, he will. The goal will be to get him up to the high 20s by the end of the season.

The real test for these Sixers will not be how the offense fairs with Embiid sitting — they have guys that can create and knock down shots if needed, such as Ben Simmons or J.J. Redick – instead it’s how well they can defend with him resting.

Report: Spurs signing LaMarcus Aldridge to two-year, $50 million contract extension

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From troubled to extended, LaMarcus Aldridge‘s Spurs tenure has changed directions in a hurry.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Piecing this together, Aldridge is exercising a $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19. That means his extension is worth $50 million over two years will carry him through age 35. All in all, Aldridge is now under contract for four more seasons.

Aldridge is a borderline All-Star, and he raises San Antonio’s floor. His back-to-the-bask mid-range games remains reliable, and he’s a willing defender. Him signing this deal should end pining for greener pastures, but it certainly won’t force him into diligent acceptance of his role forever. Players can become discontent whenever they please.

This extension significantly limits the Spurs flexibility the next two summers and maybe even in 2020, depending on Aldridge’s guarantee in the second year of his extension. They seem fine with that, perhaps believing they already have enough to topple the Warriors if Kawhi Leonard is healthy.

With Aldridge, Pau Gasol and Patty Mills all under contract for the few years around Leonard, San Antonio should remain stably good. But will these deals for aging veterans limit the Spurs’ ceiling? That’s the risk for an organization that has built its identity on championships and already has a young, in-his-prime superstar who has proven capable of being the best player on a title team.