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.”

Rumor: LeBron James would ‘never’ join Clippers

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The Clippers hired Jerry West, in part, to help lure LeBron James.

But even with LeBron-to-Los Angeles (Clippers or Lakers) rumors swirling, that plan might not even get off the ground.

Mike Wise of The Undefeated on Freddie and Fritz:

I’m going to give you something on this show, and this is breaking news. Nobody else is going to have it.

I got from a very good authority – a very good authority – that LeBron James will never be a Clipper. I can’t tell you who, but I’m going to tell you it’s somebody that knows, and LeBron James will never be a Clipper. I don’t know if that’s because he remembers what the Clippers used to be, or he just doesn’t want to put his lot in there, or he thinks Steve Ballmer is just too animated on the sideline.

He’s never going to be a Clipper. I’m just telling people right now, for your edification. I’m breaking this on the Freddie Coleman and Fitz show.

I don’t believe in “never” in situations like this. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, teams are just laundry. The Clippers can change owners, general managers, coaches, players. LeBron would remain absolutely opposed to joining?

Maybe, but I won’t go that far without knowing his reason for resisting the Clippers. A lot can change between now and 2018, when LeBron can opt out.

One of the Clippers’ biggest selling points was always going to be Chris Paul, LeBron’s close friend. Reading the tea leaves, maybe this is a sign Paul will leave this summer – for the Spurs, Rockets or somewhere else.

Hornets’ Malik Monk expected to miss Summer League with sprained ankle

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Malik Monk‘s game is a perfect fit for Summer League: The tempo is up, the guards have the ball in their hands, the plays are basic, and the defense is inconsistent (to be kind). Monk’s ability to create shots for himself, score in transition off pull-ups or attacking the rim, and his ability to score on spot-up chances coming off screens means he would put up numbers in the glorified pick-up games of Summer League.

Except we’re not going to get to see it this year. Monk will miss Summer League due to a sprained ankle suffered during the pre-draft workout process, the Charlotte Hornets announced. The team says his rehab process is 2-4 weeks, but they are not going to push their new player just to get him in some meaningless Summer League games.

Charlotte was lucky Monk fell down the draft board to them at 11, he was rated higher than that on most boards. He can score at the NBA level, how far his career goes will depend on his ability to do other things, particularly defend. His style of game is similar to Lou Williams or Monta Ellis, both of whom have had long NBA careers because they can just get buckets.

That would have been fun to see in Summer League, but maybe next year.

La La Anthony: I’m staying in New York, and Carmelo Anthony prioritizes staying close to our son

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Self-serving Knicks president Phil Jackson said Carmelo Anthonywould be better off somewhere else.”

Anthony’s wife, La La Anthony, revealed a different point of view when asked whether she’d divorce the star forward and about trade rumors involving him.

La La on The Wendy Williams Show:

Not right now. I’m not. You know, marriages are tough. And you know that. We all know that. It’s filled with ups and downs. And we’re just going through a time right now.

But him and I are the best of friends, and our number one commitment is to our son, Kiyan. We have to set an example to Kiyan, and that’s what’s most important to me. So, I would absolutely never say a bad thing about my husband. That is my son’s father, and he is an amazing dad. I could not ask for a better dad.

Every day, I see a different team. That’s for sure.

The most important thing with just that is to stay close to Kiyan. That’s my priority. That’s his priority.

So, wherever he ends up, of course we want him to be happy.

I am hood, and I want to stay close to the hood. So, New York is definitely where I’m at and where I’m staying.

The Knicks are lousy, and working for Jackson is no treat. Carmelo knows all that.

But this might reveal why Anthony hasn’t – and, according to Jackson, still won’t – waive his no-trade clause to approve a deal from New York. There are things that matter more than basketball.

Danilo Gallinari: Nuggets aren’t my first choice in free agency

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Pending free agents almost always express loyalty to their current team, whether or not they actually plan to re-sign.

That’s what makes Danilo Gallinari‘s comments stand out.

Gallinari, via Premium Sport, as translated by E. Carchia of Sportando:

“Nuggets are not my first choice but they are exactly at the same level of the other teams. Denver’s advantage is that they can offer me a five-year contract while other franchises can offer me a four-year deal. Nuggets are at the same level of the others” Gallinari said.

One way to look at this: If a player stating a desire to return to his team – even if he plans to leave – is the baseline, Gallinari is definitely gone from Denver.

Another: Gallinari is being exceedingly honest, and we should just take his comments at face value.