Joakim Noah leads Bulls to Game 7 win over Nets

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Immediately after the final buzzer sounded in the Bulls 99-93 Game 7 win over the Nets on Saturday, Joakim Noah walked toward center court, screaming with excitement and popping his road red Bulls jersey.

He had every right to do so, considering his inspired performance was the main reason behind his team’s victory — one that will send them to Miami for the second round of the playoffs against the defending champion Heat.

Noah finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds, and six blocked shots in 41 minutes of action, and was the catalyst for the Bulls in bringing the energy from the very start. He opened the game with 10 points and five rebounds — all offensive — in the first 12 minutes, and instilled the belief in his teammates that, despite being undermanned with key players out due to injury, that they might still have enough on this night to survive and advance.

Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich were both out for the Bulls — Deng was hospitalized after suffering complications from a spinal tap he received days earlier, and Hinrich tried to go in warmups, but his calf injury was too severe for him to feel like he could have contributed anything at all to his team’s effort.

The second quarter for Chicago was where the damage was done, and even seldom-used players off the bench that were pressed into action were able to contribute in temporarily blowing the game open in the Bulls’ favor. Marquis Teague, Nazr Mohammed, and Daequan Cook all hit shots in the period, one in which Chicago shot almost 62 percent from the field, while getting out to a lead of 17 points by the end of the first half.

Brooklyn finally brought the energy a Game 7 should require in the third quarter, and shaved 10 points off of the halftime lead before the period was through. Gerald Wallace was key for the Nets during that stretch, scoring 11 of his 19 points, while knocking down three shots from three-point distance.

The Nets were able to get as close as five late in the game, but the Bulls seemed to answer every single time they got close. Marco Belinelli scored on a layup with the shot clock winding down on a possession with about two minutes remaining to push the lead back to seven, and finished the Bulls scoring for the game by converting four free throws down the stretch to seal it.

Joe Johnson was playing through injury for the Nets, and said a couple of days earlier that he was essentially a decoy on the court while playing on one leg. He gave it a go in this one, but his shot was nowhere near what he’s capable of, and his inability to hit open looks hurt the Nets more than his presence helped. Johnson finished just 2-of-14 from the field in 38 minutes, including just 1-of-9 from three-point distance.

It really was an incredible accomplishment by these Bulls to overcome the loss of so many key players to win a playoff series on the road like this. Things get immediately and exponentially more difficult beginning on Monday in Miami, but for now, Tom Thibodeau and the healthy Bulls that stepped up deserve all the credit in the world for their Game 7 performance.

Stephen Curry drains shots from near half court during warmups like they’re layups

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Stephen Curry‘s pregame warmups draw people into the arena early, it’s a show in and of itself.

Before Game 4 Monday night, Curry was taking a couple shots from the center-court logo. And draining them. Like layups. Because he can.

We’ll see if he can put on that kind of show when the game tips off.

Gregg Popovich makes it official: No Kawhi Leonard for Game 4

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This was expected. It still sucks to hear.

Kawhi Leonard is out for Game 4 vs. the Warriors Monday night.

Leonard has sprained his left ankle in Game 5 against the Rockets and sat out Game 6 of that series (a San Antonio win), then returned for Game 1 against the Warriors. He re-injured his ankle twice in that game — once stepping on David Lee‘s foot, once when Zaza Pachulia slid under him on a jumper and took away his landing space. Leonard left that game with his team up 23 points, but the Warriors rallied back to win Game 1 and have controlled the series ever since. Leonard has not returned to the series.

San Antonio will play with pride on Monday night, but it may not be enough. You can bet the Warriors were reminded all day about taking their foot off the gas after what happened with Cleveland Sunday.

Report: Orlando hires Toronto GM Jeff Weltman to be president of basketball operations

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In Toronto, Masai Ujiri is the head of basketball operations and the guy with the hammer on deals. Jeff Weltman was his right-hand man and team GM.

Make that was his right-hand man, Weltman has been hired by the Orlando Magic to run its basketball operations, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Orlando Magic have hired Toronto Raptors general manager Jeff Weltman as the franchise’s president of basketball operations, league sources told The Vertical.

Weltman met with Orlando CEO Alex Martins and ownership on Monday, finalizing a five-year deal, league sources said.

Orlando officials had been intrigued with Cleveland GM David Griffin, but moved steadily toward Weltman as they became further engaged with his candidacy in recent weeks, league sources said. Weltman has been deeply involved in every aspect of the Raptors’ front office under president Masai Ujiri as Toronto became a perennial Eastern Conference contender.

Making a move now is smart in this sense: The Magic have the No. 5 pick in this draft and would want the guy making the big picture decisions about this roster on board to make this selection.

That roster already has some quality pieces — Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, maybe Elfrid Payton — but has underachieved. There were questions about the culture and a lack of accountability, and that blame ultimately fell on GM Rob Hennigan and he was let go. Frank Vogel is locked in as

Frank Vogel is locked in as coach, so how well Weltman and Vogel work together — and share a vision — will be key.

Weltman is well-respected around the league. He spent five seasons as an assistant GM in Milwaukee, and has been with the Raptors since 2013 as that team has risen up the Eastern Conference standings and had its best run in franchise history. He also has worked with the Clippers and in Denver. He’s been one of those guys expected to get a chance in the big chair for a few years now.

He’s got it, and it’s an interesting challenge in Orlando.

Celtics’ Guerschon Yabusele has foot surgery, expected to be ready for training camp

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When the Boston Celtics head to training camp next fall, all eyes will be on Markelle Fultz whoever the Celtics take with the No. 1 pick. He will be the guy expected, in a few years, to lead the Celtics to the top of the mountain in the East (assuming LeBron James ever leaves that space).

But they will have another high first round pick coming in: Guerschon Yabusele, a 6’8” power forward out of France. The Celtics drafted him No. 16 a year ago, then had him go get a year of seasoning in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Yabusele is having foot surgery but is expected to be ready for training camp, reports Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

Guerschon Yabusele, a 2016 first-round pick of the Boston Celtics, underwent surgery recently to remove bone spurs from the top of both feet and will not participate in summer league, according to a league source.

Yabusele, the 16th overall pick in last year’s draft, spent much of his first professional season stashed in China. He came stateside in March and latched on with the Maine Red Claws, Boston’s D-League affiliate.

For a team that lacks rebounding, Yabusele could be a fit in Boston. He has the build of an old-school power forward, but he has a face-up game on offense, a quicker first step than people think, and he can shoot the three.

The Celtics also have Ante Zizic, last year’s No. 23 pick, who played last season in Turkey. The Celtics are a deep team, will they have a roster space for Yabusele or Zizic next season? Or will at least one of them play another year overseas, stashed away and waiting for their chance? There are a lot of questions about the Celtics’ plans this summer, that is just one of them.