Brooklyn Nets center Lopez is fouled by Chicago Bulls forward Deng in front of Bulls center Mohammed in the second half of their NBA basketball game in New York

PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Brooklyn Nets vs. Chicago Bulls

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SEASON RECORDS

Brooklyn: 49-33, fourth seed in East

Chicago: 45-37, fifth seed in East

SEASON SERIES

The Bulls won 3-1, but one win came by one and another came by two.

KEY INJURIES

Chicago: Derrick Rose is out until he’s not, and at this point, the Bulls can’t really worry about him. They can, however, fret about Joakim Noah, who might miss Game 1, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Brooklyn: offense 105.0 (9th best in NBA), defense 103.6 (18th in NBA)

Chicago: offense 100.4 (24th in NBA), defense 100.3 (5th in NBA)

Differential: Nets +1.4 (12th in NBA), Bulls +0.1 (15th in NBA)

THREE KEYS FOR BROOKLYN:

Follow Reggie Evans’ lead: Playing a team as physical and hard-working as Chicago at least four games in a row will be a shock to the system for the Nets, but they can’t let it overwhelm them. They should look to Reggie Evans, who embraces physical play and even dishes out his share of physicality. If his teammates wilt under that pressure, this will be a long series for Brooklyn. If they embrace it, their talent will give them the edge.

Force feed Brook Lopez: Lopez is one of the league’s most skilled big men, and even against Chicago’s plus interior defense, Lopez should go to work in the post. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson have been playing through injury, and Lopez will be a real test for them if they’re not fully healthy. By force-feeding Lopez, the Nets should know early whether they have an advantage in this spot.

Tell Gerald Wallace not to worry about shooting: Wallace admitted he’s lost confidence, and it shows in his shot. But Brooklyn can’t afford to completely lose Wallace for this playoff run. The Nets have enough other players capable of making jumpers, namely Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Let Wallace focus on defending, rebounding and passing. He can still be a positive player for the Nets as long as they don’t let his poor shooting completely take him off his game.

THREE KEYS FOR CHICAGO:

Pressure Deron Williams: The questions about Williams being out of shape have quieted since Avery Johnson was fired, but there’s no denying Williams struggled early in the season. If Williams upped his workouts to get back in shape during the season, perhaps he’ll run out of gas as he plays more than he has in a few years. It’s worth the Bulls’ effort to try to gas him. Either way, whatever the Bulls can do to get the ball away from the Nets’ playmaker – who especially excels in the halfcourt offense typically featured during the playoffs – the better.

Put Nets in position to foul: The Nets commit the second-fewest fouls per field-goal attempt, partially because they don’t always defend with great physicality. Neither Carlos Boozer nor Luol Deng take many free throws, but they’re both capable of getting to the rim more often than they do, and they might be able to do so in this series without a ton of resistance.

If all else fails, ride Nate Robinson: Robinson has had several great games late this season, though it’s an admittedly scary proposition to run the offense through him. But if the short-handed Bulls fall behind, a spark like Robinson might be their only hope. They can’t be afraid to jump on the back of the player who’s capable of lifting his game to near-elite levels if they’re in a pinch.

OUTLOOK

Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls have never been the lower seed in a playoff series before now, and this role seems to suit them well. The Bulls will rely heavily on a second-year player who snuck into the first round (Jimmy Butler), a much-maligned power forward (Carlos Boozer) and an undersized point guard few teammates wanted a year ago (Nate Robinson).

If Joakim Noah gets healthy – it might be too late for that, because the Bulls didn’t rest him enough during the regular season – and Taj Gibson stays healthy, Chicago has a very real chance. Heck, at that point, the Bulls might even be the favorite.

But that seems unlikely. Noah hasn’t looked right recently, and without him playing at full strength, the Bulls take a big hit. This series will swing on Noah’s health.

The Nets have all the talent money can buy, and their big-contract players give them a talent advantage over Chicago. But the Bulls have the coaching advantage.

PREDICTION:

Bulls in seven

Thunder beat Pelicans; teams mourn Ingrid Williams’ death

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Basketball didn’t matter much to Kevin Durant on Thursday night.

Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams’ wife, Ingrid, was involved in a car crash Tuesday night in Oklahoma City and died Wednesday. Monty Williams coached the Pelicans last season before coming to Oklahoma City to help new coach Billy Donovan, so as his two most recent teams met, both played with heavy hearts. A moment of silence was observed before the Thunder’s 121-95 victory.

Durant was distraught earlier in the day while discussing the situation after the team’s shootaround, and he said it remained fresh in his mind after the game.

“We love the game so much, but that’s not really what’s important,” Durant said. “It’s definitely something that we love to do, but relationships, family – those things – that’s what’s most important in life, not the latest trends or the fashion world or all that stuff. It’s cool and all that stuff, but the stuff that lasts forever is relationships, family and love.”

Donovan wasn’t sure how his team would deal with all that happened. Durant scored 23 points, Russell Westbrook had 23 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, and Serge Ibaka added 18 points.

“I really appreciated all of our guys, the way they all have handled a really difficult situation these past 24 hours and being able to go out and play,” Donovan said.

Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday each scored 23 points for the Pelicans. Davis, who was emotional on Twitter after learning of the death, still was disappointed in the way the Pelicans played.

“We’ve got to go out there and still compete,” he said. “Go out there and play. We had a job to do tonight.”

Oklahoma City has won 14 of 16 heading into the All-Star break to join Golden State and San Antonio as the only teams with at least 40 wins. The Thunder don’t feel much needs to change to compete for the title.

“No switch-up, just enhance and get better at what we do.”

The Thunder led 62-53 at halftime behind 18 points from Westbrook and 17 from Durant.

Westbrook got his 10th assist on Ibaka’s 3-pointer that gave the Thunder a 79-65 lead. He had his ninth rebound with just under 3 minutes to go in the third quarter before heading to the bench for his usual rest and the Thunder ahead 86-68. Oklahoma City led 95-74 at the end of the third quarter.

Oklahoma City’s backups expanded the lead early in the fourth quarter, and Westbrook didn’t return.

“I don’t know what we can take out of it other than we competed like crazy in the first half,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Tried like crazy in the second half, but when they got separation, it was really difficult.”

The Thunder found an escape from pain through playing.

“Basketball, the effect it has, it allows you to forget about things a little bit, and it also brings you together as a group,” Durant said. “Thankful for that.”

 

TIP-INS

Pelicans: Shot 53.5 percent from the field in the first half, but just 43.2 percent for the game. … Were outrebounded 50-31 … Committed just nine turnovers. … Norris Cole scored 15 points.

Thunder: Shot 52.3 percent from the field. … Thunder G Andre Roberson remained out with a right knee sprain. … Anthony Morrow scored 10 points. … Enes Kanter finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds.

 

Bucks go into All-Star break with 99-92 win over Wizards

MILWAUKEE, WI - FEBRUARY 11: Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks drives to the hoop for two points during the first quarter against the Washington Wizards at BMO Harris Bradley Center on February 11, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 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 Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption *** Khris Middleton
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored 27 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and the Milwaukee Bucks held off the Washington Wizards 99-92 on Thursday night.

Middleton scored 14 points in the final quarter, giving the Wizards trouble off the dribble and from the perimeter.

Washington got within three when John Wall made two free throws with 1:36 left. But Middleton answered again, hitting a jumper in the lane on the next possession before setting up a drive-and-dish to Greg Monroe that gave the Bucks a 97-90 lead with 15 seconds left. Middleton tied a season high with nine assists.

Bradley Beal scored 19 points for the Wizards, and Wall had 15 points and 10 assists.

The Wizards go into the All-Star break 3-7 in their last 10 games.

The Bucks will take a modest but badly-needed two-game winning streak into the break. At 22-32, Milwaukee needs to inch back closer to .500 before it can start thinking about making a run at a second straight playoff appearance.

At least the Bucks gained confidence from the win after the lead see-sawed much of the night against Washington.

Sparked by better defense, the Wizards rallied from an 11-point deficit late in the second quarter to turn it into a tight contest after halftime.

Milwaukee used a 25-5 surge in an eight-minute span to help build a 55-44 lead with 45 seconds left in the second quarter. Jabari Parker scored 12 points during that quarter, when the Bucks made their run using primarily a three-guard lineup that attacked with the ball.

Middleton made the clutch plays in the end to spark the win.

TIP-INS

Washington: Wall had his 30th double-double of the season. … The Wizards went 0 of 10 from the field with three turnovers during the Bucks’ second-quarter run.

Milwaukee: Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry is taking part in the All-Star celebrity game Friday in Toronto. Asked before the game if the boss was ready, coach Jason Kidd said with a straight face: “That’s a very good question. We’ll see if he needs the asthma inhaler.” … O.J. Mayo was assessed a flagrant foul after Washington’s Otto Porter Jr. fell hard to the floor on a layup attempt with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

 

Report: Some Warriors executives believe Golden State will sign Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant (35) loses the ball next to Golden State Warriors' Marreese Speights during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors won 116-108. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)
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An NBA general manager reportedly believes Kevin Durant will sign with the Warriors.

That general manager, unless it was Bob Myers in the first place, has company.

Chris Broussard of ESPN on Durant:

There are people in Golden State that think they’re getting him.

People in management, and I think some players, too.

Blind optimism? Definitely possible.

Echo-chamber participation? Totally conceivable.

Genuine insight? Also believable.

It’s that last possibility that makes this so intriguing. Durant has reportedly researched the Bay Area, and why shouldn’t that include back-channel talks between his people and the Warriors? Golden State definitely could have legitimate reason to believe Durant is coming.

One reason this is so important: The Warriors don’t have enough cap space to re-sign Durant. What lengths they’ll travel to clear it depends on their perceived odds of signing him.

Whether or not Golden State actually gets Durant – count me in the camp that believes he hasn’t made a decision – this belief he’ll sign with the Warriors could definitely influence the rest of their offseason and maybe even smaller moves before the trade deadline.

Shaq, Yao, Iverson look to take next step to Hall of Fame

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 25:  Yao Ming #11 of the Houston Rockets posts up Shaquille O'Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers on December 25, 2003 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Rockets won 99-87.  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 Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) Shaquille O’Neal should be a lock. Yao Ming and Allen Iverson could join him.

Two larger-than-life big men and one of basketball’s most exciting little guys highlight the list of players, coaches and contributors who are eligible for induction this year into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

O’Neal and Iverson must get past an extra step by first being chosen as finalists Friday at a press conference during the NBA’s All-Star weekend festivities. If they do, they would then require 18 votes from the 24-member Honors Committee, as do all nominees from the North American and Women’s Committees.

But Yao was nominated by the Hall’s International Committee, recognized as much for his impact in the growth of basketball in his native China as his play in the NBA. That committee elects players directly to the Hall.

The class of 2016 will be unveiled April 4 in Houston on the day of the NCAA championship game, and the enshrinement ceremony is set for Sept. 9 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

O’Neal, Yao and Iverson earned a chance to be a part of it after a recent rule change that made players eligible for nomination after four full seasons of retirement. Previously, they had to wait five years, which meant they were actually six years removed from their playing days by the time they could take their place in the birthplace of basketball.

O’Neal won four NBA championships, an MVP award and is in the league’s top 10 in career scoring. Iverson, just 6-feet tall, won four scoring titles and was the league’s MVP in 2001, when his 48-performance for Philadelphia in Game 1 of the NBA Finals handed O’Neal’s Lakers their only loss of the most dominant postseason in NBA history.

Yao doesn’t have as impressive a resume, his career cut short by multiple foot injuries. But the 7-foot-6 center lasted long enough to make an enormous impact on and off the court after being selected No. 1 overall in 2002.

A look at some others who could be Springfield-bound in September:

JERRY KRAUSE: On the 20th anniversary of the Chicago Bulls compiling the best record in NBA history, perhaps it’s time to honor the executive who was one of the architects of the six-time champions?

TOM IZZO: The way he consistently gets his Michigan State teams to peak in March, don’t be surprised if he’s got a game to coach in Houston when the class he should be in appears during Final Four weekend.

SHERYL SWOOPES: The first player signed by the WNBA went on to win three MVP awards and four championships in the league, but it was her 47-point performance in leading Texas Tech to the 1993 NCAA championship that many think of first when talking about one of the greats of women’s basketball.

MARV ALBERT: Already a Hall of Famer as a broadcaster, Albert, like Krause, is now nominated by the Contributor Committee that directly elects to the Hall. Should he be honored again? As Albert might exclaim while calling a game, “YES!!”

DARELL GARRETSON: He officiated more than 2,000 games in the NBA and spent 17 years as the league’s chief of officiating. There aren’t many easy calls for referees, but this seems an easy call about one.