Bulls' Robinson goes to the basket against Nets' Johnson and Williams during the second half of Game 6 in their NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals basketball game in Chicago

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.

D’Angelo Russell said he used to play as Luke Walton on NBA 2K; Stephen Jackson calls that crap

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 30: D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks during a news conference to discuss the controversy with teammate Nick Young before the start of the NBA game against the Miami Heat at Staples Center March 30, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Did anyone ever fire up NBA 2K9 back in the day, decide to be the soon-to-be-champion Lakers, look at a roster with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom then say “I’m going to be Luke Walton”?

D'Angelo Russell says he did.

The Lakers young point guard has praised the new Laker coach at every turn — Russell and Byron Scott did not get along, the point guard is much happier now — and that includes talking about Walton’s playing days to Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

“I told him I remember playing with him on (NBA) 2K; I used to always play as him. I’m a fan. I’m definitely a fan. Because he was a point forward. I can’t speak on Elgin Baylor and all those guys, but my era, I know he was a point forward.”

Really? NBA veteran and current analyst Stephen Jackson called Russell out on that.

Jackson has a point.

Report: No, J.R. Smith isn’t talking to Sixers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with the fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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What is with the ridiculous, unrealistic Philadelphia 76ers rumors of late? Last I checked recreational use was not legal in Pennsylvania. Not that the law is stopping anyone.

The latest silliness follows this logic:

This summer the Sixers made runs at veteran guards such as Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili (and they forced the Spurs to pay up for the Argentinian to keep him).

The Cleveland Cavaliers and J.R. Smith are in a staring contest, and Smith remains a free agent.

The Sixers have more than $22 million in cap space still.

So…

No. Not happening.

Or, we could have just asked Smith who has said he is not talking to other teams and doesn’t want to play anywhere but Cleveland.

I can get why Sixers management would want to bring a veteran and beloved, hard-working pro such as Ginobili in to lead and mentor a young team. Does Smith bring that same demeanor? I get that Smith in Cleveland has developed his game, and that he has matured and backed off his hard-partying ways (he gets a hall pass for the days after winning a championship), but is Smith the veteran you bring into a young locker room?

Can we move on from the ridiculous in Pennslyvania? Well, probably not until after the election, that is a battleground state.

Paul George says “I’m ready” to challenge LeBron James for supremacy in East

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 29: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks for a pass while under pressure from Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on February 29, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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LeBron James is the best basketball player walking the face of the earth. The only guy who could start to challenge that supremacy the past couple of years has been Stephen Curry, and last season’s NBA Finals answered that question for now.

In the Eastern Conference, for years now it has been LeBron James and his team then a step back to everyone else — LeBron has been to six straight NBA Finals, four in Miami and the last two in Cleveland. Most pundits (myself included) think that’s going to be seven in-a-row because the Cavaliers are clear and away the class of the East.

Paul George says he and the Pacers are ready to change that narrative. Here is what he told Michael Lee of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“Honestly, I look at us challenging them. I’ve been in the East and I’ve been No. 1 with LeBron being on a team,” George told The Vertical in a recent telephone interview, harkening back to when the Pacers finished with the best regular-season record in the East in 2013-14, the season before his gruesome Team USA leg injury….

“I’ve always matched up with him like, ‘I know he can do this, I know he can do that,’ ” George told The Vertical about James. “Not in an awe fashion, but it’s more so, ‘I’m not supposed to win these games. This is supposed to be the best dude in the NBA. I’m trying to challenge him. I know what I’m up against.’ Now it’s, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready for you. I’m a veteran. I know you, you know me. Let’s meet here, let’s get this job done.’ I’m prepared. I’ve had time to figure this out. I’ve had time to lick my wounds. I’m ready.”

Good for George — this is exactly what you want an elite competitor and top player to say heading into the season. He sees Everest in front of him, and he wants to climb it.

I’m also higher on the Pacers than most; I think they are a top-four team in the East that can finish top two. They upgraded at the point with Jeff Teague, plus they added the underrated Thaddeus Young (although they will miss Solomon Hill) and depth up front with Al Jefferson. I don’t get Larry Bird pushing Frank Vogel out the door at all, but Nate McMillan is a solid NBA coach to take his place. I think the Pacers are taking a step forward this season, maybe a fairly significant one.

But they’re still not in the Cavaliers’ class.

The East is still Cleveland then everyone else. Last season Toronto won 56 games and had its best season in franchise history, and they were still a step or two below the Cavaliers. No team in the East — not the Raptors, not the Celtics, not the Pacers — are making up those steps. Unless injuries or something else unforeseen brings the Cavaliers back to the pack, the Eastern Conference once again will look like Secretariat at the Belmont.

Russell Westbrook says he will not kneel for national anthem “as of right now”

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook spins the ball as he poses for photos during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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Without question, some kneeling/raised fist protests of the National Anthem are coming to the NBA once preseason games start in a couple of weeks. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers has already come out saying “there’s no more American thing to do than to protest.” Teams are discussing the need for social change.

While the NBA has a rule that players must stand for the anthem, the NBA and players’ union are already discussing exactly how and if that rule should be enforced.

While some players will kneel, Russell Westbrook will not be among them. Probably. Here’s is what he told Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript.

Obviously, Westbrook is leaving himself some wiggle room here. Also, if there is one NBA star you can expect to be blunt about the situation when talking to the media, it’s Westbrook (when he feels like opening up to the media, anyway).

I expect few if any of the NBA’s top stars — the guys with the biggest international brands — will join the protests. However, there certainly will be players taking part. For a league that sees itself as progressive — and has a more politically progressive fan base compared to other American sports — how the league handles this will be watched.