BKN-BULLS-NETS

Deron Williams dunks, Nets throttle limping Bulls

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Deron Williams made a pair of free throws as the Barclays Center fans chanted “M-V-P!” On the Bulls’ next possession, Williams stole the ball, sprinted down the court and – the same player who didn’t dunk until April – delivered a reverse slam.

More than we’ve realized, this is a different Deron Williams. Frankly, and perhaps more importantly at the moment, these are a different Chicago Bulls.

Williams is full of health of vigor. The Bulls – and, as a result, this series – are not.

Williams had 22 points and seven assists to lead the Nets to a resounding 106-89 Game 1 win over Chicago that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates.  Brooklyn led by more than 15 for the game’s final 28 minutes and by as many as 28 points.

In the last 15 years, teams that win Game 1 by at least 17 points have won 41 of 44 series. As long as Williams keeps playing like this, it’s difficult to envision the Bulls turning this series into the fourth exception.

Including tonight (and excluding the season finale, when he sat out the fourth quarter), Williams is averaging 24.1 points and 8.4 assists per game since March 8. For perspective, only twice has a player averaged those marks for a full season since 1990-91 (LeBron James in 2009-10 and Gary Payton in 1999-00).

Early, Williams’ production was matched by Brook Lopez, who scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half. Over and over again, Williams and Noah got favorable position inside against a team that has a reputation for defending the paint much tougher than it did. But that reputation was built by two players who were limited tonight.

Joakim Noah, played just 13 minutes, and that seemed like 13 minutes too many. Taj Gibson got in foul trouble and had to sit.

Chicago was outscored by 13 points in the 12 minutes neither Noah, who’s losing his battle with plantar fasciitis, nor Gibson played, and that was the difference. When Noah is healthy, the Bulls don’t have to endure so much time without either of their top defenders.

The entire Bulls team didn’t pass Williams and Lopez alone in scoring until midway through the second quarter, as Chicago’s offensive troubles became the predominant story of the game.

For a long time, Carlos Boozer, who finished 25 points, was the Bulls’ only reliable scoring source.

Luol Deng made the Bulls first field goal, and then he didn’t make another shot until the third quarter was mostly over, finishing 3-for-11. Kirk Hinrich, who limped off late in the third quarter and didn’t return, and Richard Hamilton combined to shoot 0-for-5. Marco Belinelli shot 3-for-8, though he at least got to the line.

There’s no doubt Chicago, which scored just 35 first-half points, had offensive problems. But those issues were overstated.

The Bulls still had a higher offensive rating (102.7) than all four teams that played earlier in the day: Knicks (95.9), Nuggets (95.7), Warriors (91.7) and Celtics (95.9).

Nate Robinson scored 17 points on 12 shots, and Jimmy Butler went 5-for-8.

However, Robinson – likely because Tom Thibodeau didn’t trust the point guard’s defense – played just eight minutes before the fourth quarter, and Butler disappeared for nearly the entire first half. Butler’s issues are perhaps correctable, but it’s getting too late for Robinson to endear himself to Thibodeau, even though riding Robinson’s high-variance game might be the Bulls’ best chance as underdogs.

The Nets, on the other hand, never had problems getting going. In addition to Williams and Lopez, Joe Johnson (16 points), Gerald Wallace (14 points), C.J. Watson (14) and Andray Blatche (12 points) all had their moments in supporting roles.

As big as the gap looked between these teams tonight, the series isn’t over, and several Bulls (and two former Bulls who now play for the Nets, C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans) should know that. The last team to win Game 1 by at least 17 points and then lose the series was the Bulls, who beat the Miami Heat by 21 before losing the next four games.

Noah might not be able to give the Bulls much in this series, but they can look to his words after that big win over the Heat two years ago.

“It’s only one game,” Noah said. “There’s a lot of basketball to be played.”

Report: Heat reach out to Chris Bosh to find ‘amicable resolution,’ get no response

Miami Heat players Josh Richardson, left, Chris Bosh, center, and Tyler Johnson, right, look up as they watch a video replay during the final seconds of the second half in Game 5 of an NBA basketball playoffs first-round series against the Charlotte Hornets, Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Miami. The Hornets defeated the Heat 90-88. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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The Heat won’t waive Chris Bosh yet, because if he plays 25 games (regular-season or playoff) with another team this season, he’d count against Miami’s cap this summer. The only path to the extra cap space is ensuring Bosh misses the postseason.

With players waived after today ineligible for the playoffs and every team having 24 or fewer regular-season games remaining, the time to formally waive Bosh is approaching.

Bosh will still get the $75,868,170 remaining over the final years of his contract from Miami. The key for the Heat is getting a doctor, selected jointly by the NBA and players union, to rule that Bosh — who has had multiple blood-clot episodes — continuing to play would present a “medically unacceptable risk of suffering a life-threatening or permanently disabling injury or illness.” Then, Bosh’s salary won’t count against the cap (at least unless he plays 25 games elsewhere).

Ira Winderman of the South Florida SunSentinel:

The Heat, according to a source close to the situation, in recent days have attempted to reach out to Bosh in hopes of an amicable resolution, without response.

For Bosh to get the remaining money he’s owed, he’ll have to cooperate with the medical testing.

This is a huge opportunity for him, anyway. The doctor ruling it’s safe for him to play is his most direct path onto the court.

But I also understand Bosh’s bitterness toward the Heat. He wants to play, and they won’t let him. He doesn’t have to be amicable.

Still, he’ll cooperate enough. There’s too much money on the line.

Knicks evaluating players based on triangle fit

Phil Jackson
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It was never clear whether Knicks president Phil Jackson was forcing/would force coach Jeff Hornacek to run the triangle offense.

It’s still not.

Jackson insisted he was fine with Hornacek deviating from the famed scheme Jackson used as a coach with the Bulls and Lakers. But now it appears the triangle is back, and Hornacek — whose Suns teams used more of an up-tempo, pick-and-roll attack — is expressing a long-term commitment to it.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Jeff Hornacek confirmed Tuesday that management is using the remaining months to evaluate who fits the system, which has been re-emphasized as more of a traditional triangle since the All-Star break. Hornacek even made it sound like they were placing players in two different hats: the triangle yays, and the triangle nays.

“As times goes on, you say can they get it? Are they getting better at it? If they’re not, you go, OK,” Hornacek said. “End of the year comes and we’re having our discussions and you say, ‘Can this guy play this offense? We’ll say either yay or nay or he’s getting it, he’s getting better. So I’m sure that’s part of evaluations this summer.”

Yaron Weitzman of Bleacher Report:

It’s difficult to believe Jackson’s fingerprints aren’t all over this, especially with Jackson-favorite Kurt Rambis heavily involved.

What does that mean for Hornacek, who’s in his first season with New York? He can try to appease his boss, but this doesn’t bode well for the coach’s job security.

It also doesn’t bode well for the Knicks.

Acquiring more productive players should take priority over scheme. Committing too deeply to the triangle will narrow New York’s pool of available talent.

And it’s not as if Hornacek has done a bad job with his offense. Despite Jackson building a team with just three quality offensive players* — Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Courtney Lee — the Knicks still have a middling offense.

Their defense, guided by Rambis, is lousy. That should be the bigger emphasis.

But Jackson keeps doing his own thing, no matter how little anyone else understands it.

*Derrick Rose, who scores well as a driver, doesn’t qualify due to his shaky perimeter shooting and lackluster ball distribution.

GM: Re-signing Paul Millsap is Hawks’ priority

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 27: Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks drives against Amir Johnson #90 of the Boston Celtics during the third quarter at TD Garden on February 27, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Hawks have gone multiple directions in the last year.

Thinking long-term, they traded Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver for first-round picks and refused to offer Al Horford a full max contract.

Thinking short-term, they signed Dwight Howard and kept Paul Millsap through the trade deadline – and even added Ersan Ilyasova on an expiring contract.

What direction is Atlanta going, and where does Millsap — who was shopped earlier in the season — fit?

Hawks general manager Wes Wilcox, via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Paul Millsap is absolutely our priority this offseason, in re-signing him with the Atlanta Hawks. We’ve communicated that to Paul, his team, and we feel great about our position there. We also don’t want to hide from the fact that, yeah, we took a long, hard look at it earlier in the season, during a period of time where our team was struggling, and ultimately decided that Paul is far too valuable to us. And through that period of time and that exercise, we made that decision to absolutely keep Paul. And he is certainly our priority.

It seemed Horford was the Hawks’ priority once they kept him past last year’s trade deadline. Then, they facilitated his exit to the Celtics by not offering him his full max.

Will Atlanta pay whatever it takes to keep Millsap?

A full max contract projects to pay Millsap about $207 million over five years (about $41 million annually). He’s extremely helpful right now, and losing him would sink the Hawks in the standings. But do they really want to pay him more than $47 million in a season where he turns 37?

Perhaps it won’t take quite that much. Other teams project to be able to offer Millsap only up to about $154 million over four years (about $38 million annually). Maybe Atlanta can get him for something in between — or maybe even less than the max if other teams are leery of his age. But the Hawks are basically pot-committed.

The time for the Hawks to choose a direction was before the trade deadline, and they chose to build with Millsap. We’ll see whether they stay on that track when it comes time to pay.

Report: Jimmer Fredette, playing in China, engaging NBA teams on March return

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 22:  Jimmer Fredette #32 of the New York Knicks in action against the Toronto Raptors during their game at Madison Square Garden on February 22, 2016 in New York City.  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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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It has been six years since Jimmer Fredette entered the NBA with a cult following out of BYU. After five lackluster NBA seasons, will he get a sixth?

His play in China has generated buzz among those already inclined to support him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Errick McCollum is averaging more points per game in the Chinese Basketball Association and taking fewer shots than Fredette. Also averaging 30 points per game in China: MarShon Brooks, Jared Cunningham, Jabari Brown, Jamaal Franklin, Lester Hudson, Darius Adams and Dominique Jones.

In other words, a bunch of borderline NBA players who most likely belong outside the top league.

That includes Fredette, whose selfish style doesn’t lend itself to the smaller role he’d likely have to fill in the NBA.

It takes only one team to take a chance on Fredette, but I wouldn’t bank on immediate help or upside from the 28-year-old.