Joakim Noah’s heart lifts Bulls to ugly win over Nets

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Joakim Noah pushed Kris Humphries in the back, positioned himself between Humphries and C.J. Watson for a rebound and lunged out of bounds to save the ball as it took a sharp carom across the baseline. Noah’s heave was headed out of bounds on the sideline, but Kirk Hinrich jumped to save the ball, making a pinpoint pass to Nate Robinson. With 21 seconds on the shot clock, Robinson drilled a long 3-pointer like time was running out and he needed to save a possession.

Thanks to an incredible effort by the plantar-fasciitis-suffer Noah, the Bulls saved their playoff hopes with a 90-82 win over the Nets tonight.

Noah played 25:29 – just enough over his limit of 25 minutes to prove a point – and all 25 minutes and 29 seconds were essential to the Chicago’s win. It wasn’t just that Noah made positive plays, though he certainly did, but his teammates fed off his resolve. The Bulls cheered heartily from the bench and defended physically on the floor, lifting each other as they willed themselves to play just better than Brooklyn.

Then Noah took over.

In the final 7:39, Noah had nine points, six rebounds and a seizure-inducing blocked shot:

Plays like that helped Chicago hold the Nets to 35 percent shooting, and compared to the series’ first game, the big difference came in the paint:

Game 1: 28-of-38 (74 percent)

Game 2: 15-of-36 (42 percent)

The Bulls uglied the game, which worked to their advantage.

Kirk Hinrich orchestrated an offense that scored just 95.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. But he also hounded Deron Williams into 1-of-9 shooting.

Luol Deng forced shot after shot, scoring 15 points on 16 attempts. But highlighting the small forward matchup overwhelmed Gerald Wallace, who scored just two points on 1-for-7 shooting.

Nazr Mohammed… well, there wasn’t much ugly about his game. He played big defense in the interior, and he shot 4-of-5, making two 15-footers and two 16-footers.

In Game 1, the Bulls were –13 in the 12 minutes neither Noah nor Taj Gibson played. Tonight, Chicago was +6 in its 12 minutes with Noah or Gibson – and that’s a credit to Mohammed.

Tom Thibodeau outcoached P.J. Carlesimo tonight – both by making tactical changes from Game 1 and by inspiring his players to give their all – and now it’s the Nets coach’s turn to make adjustments.

Here’s a thought: Don’t start both Wallace and Reggie Evans. They have value for their defense and rebounding, but though those two forwards mostly play with three plus offensive players – Williams, Brook Lopez (21 points) and Joe Johnson (17 points) – the Nets had an offensive rating of 47.6 (!) in the 17 minutes Wallace and Evans shared the court tonight.

In an muddy game, those Brooklyn possessions were perhaps the deepest in the muck, though there were certainly other contenders.

Noah made all three of his fourth-quarter shots, and after each one, he grimaced while laboring up the court. It looked like his legs could crumble beneath him at any moment.

But he kept pressing.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.

Report: Pacers waive Rodney Stuckey, will likely add player before playoffs

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Rodney Stuckey was having a down year for the Pacers when he was healthy, averaging 7.2 points and 2.2 assists per game, with a well below average 48.3 true shooting percentage. Stuckey also was not healthy often, playing in just 39 games.

The Pacers are banged up — Glenn Robinson III and Al Jefferson are hurt — and need a healthy body on the roster for the playoffs, plus they weren’t going to pick up Stuckey’s $7 million option for next season anyway, so they chose to wave him Wednesday, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

The question now is who the Pacers bring in to fill that spot. With Jefferson down, do they lean on someone they know in Tyler Hansbrough? Is there someone out of the D-League or free agent pool that intrigues them?

The Pacers need to do something to start winning some games and making Paul George happy.

Paul George on Pacers after loss: “No sense of urgency, no winning pride”

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Indiana still has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to fivethirtyeight.com), they are two games clear of the nine seed with seven games to play.

But they fell to that seventh seed with a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, an evening that Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Miami all won. Chicago is the nine seed right now, lurking with its soft schedule, and looking for another team to slip up, and in a key game Indiana did.

The Pacers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night despite being at home and having a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indy had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who dropped 37. Paul George had 37 points as well, and afterwards pissed and frustrated would be good words to describe his mood. Here’s his quote, via Nate Taylor at the Indy Star.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said of losing to the Timberwolves (29-44). “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up….

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” he said. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

If you don’t have urgency playing for your playoff lives with seven games left in the season, when will you have it?

Yes, this was a frustrated George venting after a loss. However, it also points again to the challenges Larry Bird and the Pacer front office have this summer — George wants to win, wants to play for a contender. Or if not that, maybe in his hometown. If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team (he likely just misses out, forward is a stacked position in the league right now) and the Pacers can’t offer him a “designated player” max, Indiana needs to put a contender around him, or consider trading him so they don’t lose him for nothing in a year. Both of those options present challenges come July.

In the short term, the Pacers need to make the playoffs. Even if they do, play like this against the Cavaliers (their current first-round matchup) or any of the other top-four teams in the East and Indy’s stay in the postseason will be short and uneventful.