Joakim Noah

Joakim Noah’s still hurting foot could be key to Bulls/Nets

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The Chicago Bulls are a trendy upset pick over the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs (if the five seed beating the four is really an upset). The theory goes that the size of the Bulls front line — Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson — can protect the paint and the Bulls overall defense can just grind the Nets down.

But what if that Bulls front line isn’t right?

Noah played 14 minutes each in the Bulls final two games of the regular season after missing four games in a row before that as he again battles plantar fasciitis — a painful foot condition that really only gets better with rest.

How much and how well Noah can play against the Nets could swing what will be a hard-fought series. Coach Tom Thibodeau talked about it to Aggrey Sam at CSNChicago.com. Thibodeau said he’s not sure Noah is going to go a whole lot more minutes per game yet.

“It’s a combination of how much can we play [Joakim],” Thibodeau said. “Whether he starts or comes off the bench, I think he can handle both and we have to maximize what [Joakim] can bring to our team.

“During the game, he feels fine. I think he’s hopeful that he’ll get better as we go along. It’s the type of injury where he’s going to have to try and manage it as best as he can. The one thing is, he’s doing everything he can to get out there. He wants to be out there very badly. Whatever he can give us is a huge plus for our team.”

The one advantage the Bulls have is that the frequency of the games slows down in the playoffs. The Bulls are off until Saturday, then the series goes Monday and Thursday. Noah will get some breaks.

Which is good — the Bulls do not have much margin for error in this series. The Nets with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are the most skilled team, the more offensive minded team.

Noah looked rusty and limited in his recent comeback games. If that is the case against the Nets, Chicago could be one and done. Again.

TNT to cover NBA games with only former players, no traditional play-by-play men

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Grant Hill #33 of the Phoenix Suns looks to move the ball as Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends in the first quarter of Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2010 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 conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — TNT will use broadcast teams featuring only former players and no traditional play-by-play men during five NBA doubleheaders later this season.

The “Players Only” schedule runs Monday nights from Feb. 27 to March 27 and includes matchups such as Golden State-Oklahoma City on March 20 and Cleveland-San Antonio a week later.

Brent Barry will serve as the primary host of one team with Derek Fisher and Grant Hill, while Greg Anthony partners with Kevin McHale and Richard Hamilton on the other.

Lisa Leslie and Dennis Scott will serve as reporters.

Turner Sports says Thursday that Chris Webber will anchor the studio coverage with Isiah Thomas and Baron Davis, and that additional NBA players will contribute to the five-week program.

James Harden presents fan with game ball on her 100th birthday (video)

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden took some time out after the Houston Rockets’ win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks to give a fan a present on a her 100th birthday.

Video shows Harden signing a ball for the woman and spending a few moments sitting next to her in her courtside seat and posing for pictures Wednesday night.

Harden told ESPN’s Doris Burke in an interview that he told the woman how “blessed” he was to be able to have a chance to meet her.

The Houston guard also put on a good show for the fan during the game, scoring 38 points in a 111-92 victory over the Bucks.

Paul George dunks on DeMarcus Cousins while getting whacked in the face (video)

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Kings center DeMarcus Couins appears set to become the first player to sign as a veteran designated player. The Pacers hope Paul George will follow.

But in the Pacers’ win over the Kings yesterday, George beat Cousins.

Not even Cousins thwacking George in the face could stop this dunk.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.