Shorthanded Bulls scrap, but Nets have enough to force Game 7

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This is how unprepared the Nets were for this moment, a playoff Game 7 on their home court in Brooklyn in their first year in the city:

They already had a Rihanna concert scheduled for Saturday night in the Barclay center. Thanks to Deron Williams and friends, Rihanna and crew will have to come back Tuesday night for a rescheduled show.

But at least the Nets offered her seats for Game 7.

A game they forced with an ugly-but-dramatic 95-92 win in Chicago Thursday night over a Bulls team devastated by injury and illness.

You have to tip your cap to the Bulls, who were gritty and tough just as they have been all playoffs. Tom Thibodeau tried to push his players, he just ran out of arrows in the quiver to fire.

The Bulls were without D-Will stopper Kirk Hinrich (calf), Luol Deng was sent home with the flu just an hour before the game. Nate Robinson played through that same flu, scored 18 points but was throwing up in a trashcan beside the bench during timeouts. Taj Gibson played through the flu but wasn’t himself. Again Joakim Noah played through plantar fasciitis. And let’s not even get into the Derrick Rose thing again (it’s his injury, he gets to decide when to return, not Chicago sports talk radio hosts).

Not shockingly, the Bulls were not themselves though all that and with a hot Joe Johnson (5-of-6 shooting) the Nets put up 33 points. But as was the case all night, the Bulls hung around; they had 27 in the first quarter with Marco Belinelli hitting 4-of-7 shots (he was key all night and finished with 22 points).

This pattern followed all game — Deron Williams was getting his way (14 points, 8 assists by halftime) but the Bulls made an 8-2 push midway through the quarter and they hung around, down 60-53 at the half.

Then came the ugliness that was the third quarter.

The Nets shot 4-of-19 for the third. The Bulls shot 6-of-22. There were 15 personal fouls between the teams, and they combined to shoot 10-of-17 from the free throw line. Neither team could take control of the game given the chance, and when the 12 minutes were over it was still a five point Nets lead.

It felt like Game 5, the Nets hanging around despite not playing well, but you kept expecting the magic, expecting the run. Except they just didn’t have enough healthy bodies to make it.

With four minutes to go, the Bulls were down just two (87-85) but got no closer because Brook Lopez got a dunk to cap the 18 points he had on the night. Nate Robinson tried, but he was 3-of-7 shooting for 6 points in the fourth. Noah blocked Lopez and Andray Blatche in the final minutes (Blatche would make a clutch high-arcing shot over Noah later), but they didn’t have Carlos Boozer after he fouled out for shoving Blatche in the back at one point.

Still it was a three-point game with 19.2 seconds to play and the Bulls had a shot. But it was this kind of night — Belinelli’s corner three to tie skipped across the rim and as it went to the opposite corner Noah tracked it down, he turned to take a shot… and stepped out of bounds.

Still, the Nets through the ball into Williams and Noah tied him up. Noah could win the tap for a three and the Bulls could stay alive… but the Nets gathered the tip and that was the ball game.

The Bulls have to leave this game thinking if they can just get guys healthy for Game 7 they have a shot.

For the Nets it’s simpler — they are the more talented team. But they are going to have to play with some of the heart and grit of the Bulls or they are going to disappoint their newest fan Rihanna Saturday.

New Orleans Saints fire Pelicans’ team physician

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The Pelicans have been crushed by injuries the last few years.

Why? That’s an incredibly complex question.

But the New Orleans Saints – who share an owner (Tom Benson), a front-office leader (Mickey Loomis) and other staff with the Pelicans – have found culprits for their own injury woes.

Mike Triplett of ESPN:

The Saints have fired team orthopedists Deryk Jones and Misty Suri, per source, after it was discovered that CB Delvin Breaux has a fractured fibula and will require surgery expected to sidelined him for 4-6 weeks. Breaux was originally diagnosed with a contusion

Suri is a Pelicans team physician.

Scott Kushner of The Advocate:

Fairly or not, Suri – after the Saints deemed him unacceptable – will be in the crosshairs if he keeps his job with the the Pelicans and their injury woes continue.

Rumor: LeBron James ‘100 percent’ leaving Cavaliers next summer

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Chris Sheridan was ahead of the crowd in 2014, reporting LeBron James would likely leave the Heat for the Cavaliers – which obviously happened.

But Sheridan called it a “90 percent chance,” a small – but large enough – hedge. He also said LeBron would announce the decision on LeBron’s personal website. Of course, LeBron revealed his choice in a Sports Illustrated essay.

So, maybe Sheridan knows what he’s talking about. Maybe he doesn’t.

But the longtime NBA writer just fanned the flames of the already hot LeBron-leaving-Cleveland rumors.

Sheridan:

Of course, the denials came quickly.

There have already been plenty of warning signs about LeBron’s relationship with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, which didn’t restart in a great place.

It’s entirely believable LeBron would leave Cleveland, in large part due to Gilbert.

But it’s also fun to speculate about that salacious storyline.

Maybe Sheridan or his source got carried away for that very reason. Or maybe they know something.

Neither possibility should be discounted.

Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant betting odds favorites to win MVP

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Unlike the early projections for the NBA title next season, the MVP race seems wide open.

Russell Westbrook put up ridiculous numbers on his way to the award last season, but now he is going to share the rock with Paul George. James Harden made a legitimate case and would have won most seasons, but now he will have the ball in his hands less with Chris Paul running the show.

Who is going to win? Westbrook and Golden State’s Kevin Durant are the early betting line favorites, with these odds courtesy of online gaming site Bovada.

Russell Westbrook (OKC) 7/2
Kevin Durant (GS) 9/2
Kawhi Leonard (SAN) 13/2
LeBron James (CLE) 15/2
James Harden (HOU) 8/1
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 17/2
Steph Curry (GS) 11/1
Anthony Davis (NOP) 16/1
Paul George (OKC) 25/1
Chris Paul (HOU) 25/1
Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 25/1
DeMarcus Cousins (NOP) 33/1
Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN) 33/1
John Wall (WAS) 33/1
Blake Griffin (LAC) 40/1
Nikola Jokic (DEN) 40/1
DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 50/1
Joel Embiid (PHI) 50/1
Kyrie Irving (CLE) 50/1
Damian Lillard (POR) 50/1
Draymond Green (GS) 60/1
Ben Simmons (PHI) 66/1
Gordon Hayward (BOS) 70/1
Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 75/1
Jimmy Butler (MIN) 75/1
Andrew Wiggins (MIN) 75/1
Kevin Love (CLE) 100/1
Kyle Lowry (TOR) 100/1
Kristaps Porzingis (NYK) 100/1

Yes, it is far too early to discuss this. As a voter, I don’t even start to make a list of serious candidates until midway through the season (then that list evolves as the season wears on). But it’s fun to speculate about.

To me, the smartest bet on the board seems to be Kawhi Leonard — he could have won last year, and if anything the Spurs are going to ask more of him this season. I think Harden has a chance to win it this season even with CP3, same with Westbrook, but it feels less likely. It’s hard to imagine one Warrior being picked above the others for the award. If Giannis Antetokounmpo finds his jumper it could happen, but that feels more like something a couple seasons away. Same with Karl-Anthony Towns being in consideration.

If you’re going to bet on Kevin Love, just donate that money to charity where it will do some good.

If Jeff Hornacek doesn’t work out with Knicks, is David Blatt next in line?

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It’s not fair to judge Jeff Hornacek of his first season as coach of the New York Knicks. Phil Jackson made some poor roster decisions — don’t hire a coach that likes to play fast then go sign Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah — and then there was the on again, off again, on again triangle offense looming over everything.

This season Hornacek will sink or swim on his own terms, and his ability to develop Kristaps Porzingis into a true franchise cornerstone and put Tim Hardaway Jr. and other young players in good positions around them.

If not, is former Cavaliers coach David Blatt lurking? Frank Isola of the New York Daily News says it’s something to watch.

Blatt, who has enjoyed tremendous success abroad, owns an impressive resume. No question about it. But you know the old saying, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And Blatt has connections with people in high places inside the Knicks front office, namely team president Steve Mills and newly hired front office executive Craig Robinson…

Mills is going to give Hornacek every opportunity to succeed in New York but Mills, who is said to have strong opinions about how the team should be coached, also wants to see results. That begins with Hornacek repairing his relationship with Kristaps Porzingis, who did not connect with the head coach last season and ultimately skipped his exit meeting with Jackson, Hornacek and Mills in April.

Repairing that relationship with Porzingis is crucial. We’ll see if Hornacek can do that and get this team moving in the right direction.

Blatt wants to return to the NBA, but his he the guy to connect with Porzingis? Blatt’s problems in Cleveland had far less to do with Xs and Os than it did relationships with players — Blatt was saying he wanted to team to play faster long before Tyronn Lue said that when he took over, but Lue could get players to buy in and listen. Blatt couldn’t. Blatt came in expecting to be handed respect, touting his European resume (that NBA players shrugged at), and demanding deference rather than building partnerships with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Blatt came off as needing to be the smartest guy in the room, always. Basically, Blatt could not handle the player/power dynamic in the NBA (coming out of Europe, where coaches have absolute power, like an American college coach). Has he learned how to deal with it?

Before we get to that question, Hornaced gets his shot. The real test for the Knicks comes after Christmas, when they spend most of a couple of weeks on the road (due to the Grammys coming to Madison Square Garden), it’s a tough couple of weeks, and the team could struggle in that stretch and not recover. Hornacek has to have the team playing well enough, and buying in enough by then, to survive that trip. Do that and he will stick around. If not, the sharks are circling.