Bulls win over Nets cements Thibodeau as one of league’s best tacticians

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When Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Brooklyn Nets he wanted a splashy name as head coach. They had a conversation with then Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau, a guy seen as a defense-first coach, but the only full interview they did was with former Mavericks coach Avery Johnson. He was their man.

Except Johnson got canned midway through this past season. P.J. Carlesimo took over a roster that had more talent on it than their eventual first-round opponent, the Chicago Bulls. Coached by that very same Tom Thibodeau.

And Thibodeau took the Nets to school.

The Bulls win in this series cements Thibodeau’s name up with the best tacticians in the game right now. There are other good coaches out there, smart ones who get a lot out of their teams (guys like George Karl, Rick Adelman) but as a pure tactician it is Gregg Popovich and Thibodeau then everyone else.

Thibodeau gets more out of the talent on his team than any coach in the league; he gets them to play with passion almost every night. He works harder than everyone and his team is molded in his image.

The Bulls won that first-round series because Thibodeau recognized the need to contain Deron Williams after Game 1 and recognized he had the guy in Kirk Hinrich to do it — D-Will shot 6-of-23 the next two games with 14 total assists with Hinrich dogging him. But it was more than that, it was the rest of the Bulls taking away back cuts and easy passing lanes. The Bulls took the paint back. By Game 2 Chicago was fully prepared for what the Nets wanted to do and the Nets never could fully counterpunch against a healthy Bulls defense.

The key to the series for the Bulls was winning a dramatic triple-overtime Game 4, where a Bulls team that is modeled after its coach would not give up and was tougher than the Nets.

But when Hinrich went down with a calf injury, when Luol Deng was out after needing a spinal tap, when Taj Gibson was banged up, when Nate Robinson was throwing up during timeouts in Game 6 due to the flu — and all that doesn’t even mention Derrick Rose —the Nets got back in it. Brooklyn won games five and six because the Bulls were just too banged up.

But in the deciding Game 7 the key was a Bulls offense designed to attack a soft Nets defense — Carlos Boozer blew by Andray Blatche, Marco Belinelli drove by Gerald Wallace with little trouble for a key basket. Joakim Noah outplayed a more gifted offensive center in Brook Lopez.

The Bulls had enough healthy bodies and that with their schemes was too much for a Nets team where the total was never greater than the sum of their parts. The Nets were predictable and Thibodeau recognized and exploited it.

Now Thibodeau and the Bulls take on the Miami Heat in a real matchup problem for them (and for everyone, the Heat have won 40 of their last 42 games). But the Bulls have had some success against the Heat by going inside to Boozer and Noah, by playing to their strengths and defending hard. And you know they will do it again.

The Bulls don’t have enough to win this series, but you know they are going to make the Heat work for every win.

Russell Westbrook threw it down all over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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A rough night for the Thunder will not stop the Russell Westbrook highlights.

The Thunder had another poor game and fell to a Hornets. Westbrook tried to push the team back, but the Thunder defense that has kept them in games all season was not good enough against Charlotte, and the OKC offense was once again up and down.

Westbrook had 30 points on 22 shots on the night, and none of them were as impressive as this transition throwdown on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Jahlil Okafor excited about fresh start with Nets

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jahlil Okafor finally got the fresh start he wanted.

Okafor was the consensus No. 1 high school player in his class, won a national championship at Duke, and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds in his rookie campaign for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then things changed drastically.

Okafor struggled with injuries and a logjam at his position in his second season.

“When I first got drafted there, we already had Nerlens (Noel) there, Joel (Embiid) was there, so we’re trying to have three starting centers on the same team,” Okafor said Monday at his introductory news conference with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets.

“It just never really was the right fit.”

The 76ers traded Okafor along with seldom-used guard Nik Stauskas and two draft picks to the Nets on Thursday. Philadelphia got forward Trevor Booker from Brooklyn.

Okafor also had off-court problems during his time in Philadelphia. He got a speeding ticket for driving 108 miles per hour and was suspended by the 76ers for two games after in an altercation outside of a Boston nightclub with a heckler.

“Speeding obviously is illegal,” Okafor said. “I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I guess you just learn how the page can turn on you and how everything can flip. I can’t really say I learned anything, because you know going in that’s not right. You just learn from your mistakes, but (it was) a tough thing that I went through, I got past, and I’m looking to better times now.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, joins D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the same draft class, on the Nets.

“We’re just very excited to get on the court together,” Okafor said. “You never would’ve thought the number two and number three picks would be playing on the same team a few years after, but like I said, everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited.”

Russell also had problems on and off the court with the team that drafted him. He was criticized for recording a video of former Lakers teammate Nick Young that aired sordid details about Young’s private life. The Lakers gave up on Russell and drafted Lonzo Ball as his replacement.

“I feel like we’re similar in that we have a lot to prove,” Okafor said. “I know he’s working his (butt) off as well. Right now he’s rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. I think we both have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.”

Okafor understands he has areas to improve, mainly defense and rebounding.

“I’m not a perfect player,” Okafor said. “I’m 21. There are things that I need to work on, that I have worked on and that I’ll continue to work on.”

He’s excited about fulfilling his potential with a new team.

“I feel really motivated right now, but I’ve always been motivated,” Okafor said. “This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy. It’s something new for me to experience, so I’m glad that I am experiencing it.”

 

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”