Nate Robinson comes up big once again in Bulls’ Game 1 over Heat

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Nate Robinson’s teammates hunched over just so they could celebrate at eye level with the shortest player the NBA playoffs have seen in the last seven years.

Earlier in the night, they would have had to bend even lower.

In the second quarter, Robinson sat on the Heat court with blood dripping from his face. He had just collided with LeBron James, 11 inches taller and 70 pounds heavier, while going for a loose ball. Robinson left the court, but he returned in the second half.

And despite his 5-foot-9 frame, Robinson came up big. Really big.

Robinson had just waved off a Joakim Noah screen, driven right past Ray Allen and gotten all the way to the rim for a crucial basket. A timeout followed, and his teammates ducked their heads to share the joy with Robinson.

The Bulls ended Game 1 against the Heat on a 10-0 run, the final seven points by Robinson, for a 93-86 win.

Marco Belinelli made the first big shot of the decisive run, a game-tying 3-pointer with 1:59 left. Robinson pulled up for a go-ahead jumper with 1:17 left, drove past Allen with 45 seconds left and then made a few free throws down the stretch.

Undoubtedly, Robinson and Belinelli deserve credit for their big shots, but those attempts were created by Chicago’s one decided advantage in this game: rebounding. The Bulls outrebounded the Heat, 46-32.

Joakim Noah offensively rebounded a Belinelli miss to set up the guard’s 3-pointer, and on the Bulls’ three defensive possessions after their final baskets, Chicago held Miami to a single shot. Belinelli grabbed two defensive rebounds, and Noah grabbed the other.

Noah played 39 minutes and grabbed 11 rebounds, using his mobility to remain effective when the Heat went small and still help the Bulls rebound. In theory, Taj Gibson also has that capability, but he had just four rebounds in 25 minutes. Instead, Jimmy Butler (14 rebounds in 48 minutes), Belinelli (seven rebounds in 46 minutes) and Carlos Boozer (seven rebounds in 25 minutes) stepped up on the glass.

One of Chicago’s biggest relative downfalls tonight was its backup guards. With Kirk Hinrich out injured, the Bulls gave Marquise Teague eight minutes and Daequan Cook two, even though those two never stood a chance against Miami’s defense. With Teague on the court, Chicago’s offensive rating was 65.4. With Cook, it was 0.0.

Neither played in the second half, which was a sound adjustment by Tom Thibodeau after neither team scored well during a mostly tight first half.

LeBron had just two points on 1-of-6 shooting at halftime, and the open looks he created for his teammates didn’t fall.

As had happened multiple times in their first-round sweep of the Bucks after back-and-forth play, the Heat made a run in the third quarter.

Dwyane Wade dunked. Chris Bosh blocked a shot. Wade made a layup over Noah by seemingly pausing at the peak of his jump and twisting around Noah as the Bulls center was bound by laws of gravity and retuned to Earth. The Heat defense swarmed the Bulls into a bad shot and a miss. Bosh made a corner 3-pointer from LeBron. Bosh stole a pass. LeBron threw a bullet pass to Wade for another layup.

It was a 9-0 run, and even though no timeout was called, the Miami crowd roared while players on the Heat bench stood. Against Milwaukee, this would have been the decisive stretch.

But the Heat led by six measly points. Fewer than two-and-a-half minutes later, they led by only one.

They can’t make only one burst and expect to beat Chicago, which plays hard all game long. The Heat, whose 27-game win streak ended against the Bulls, know this, but sustaining quality play after such a long layoff is easier said than done.

It’s reasonable to expect Miami will be sharper in Game 2, but the Bulls aren’t backing down, and Robinson is stepping up.

Kevin Durant no fan of one-and-done, says he would have come straight to NBA

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With the money funneled to future NBA players through agents in the spotlight thanks to a FBI investigation (one that doesn’t even get into the money from boosters and shoe companies), the one-and-done rule the NBA has for players sending them to college for a semester of cakewalk classes one year has come back in the spotlight.

The league and players’ union are discussing changing the rule — with some input from the NCAA. If they want Kevin Durant‘s advice, scrap the whole thing — he would have come straight to the NBA if he could have.

“You want these players to go out there and play on the biggest stage. The Final Four is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, in sports, and they don’t get a dime for it. I don’t think it’s right

“If they want to come out of high school, it should be on them. You know what I mean? You can’t control everything. So if they feel as though they’re ready, that’s on them. They want to make a decision on their life, that’s on them. If they don’t get drafted, it’s on them. You can try to control it, but you’re still not really doing anything.”

Would Durant have come out from high school rather than spend a season at Texas?

“Yeah, probably. I needed the money.”

The NBA is discussing changes, and they want to see the recommendations from Condoleezza Rice’s NCAA commission. But the league’s owners are not all on the same page.

“In terms of the NBA, we’re conflicted, to be honest…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said All-Star weekend. “And from a league standpoint, on one hand, we think we have a better draft when we’ve had an opportunity to see these young players play an elite level before they come into the NBA.

“On the other hand, I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger? Are we better off bringing them into the league when they’re 18 using our G League as it was designed to be as a Development League and getting them minutes on the court there? And there is also recognition that for some of these elite players, there is no question that they can perform in the NBA at 18 years old.”

There seems to be some momentum toward a “baseball rule” compromise — players can come to the NBA straight out of high school, but if they go to college they have to stay for at least two years. Unlike the last time high schoolers were rushing into the NBA, most teams are far better prepared to develop young players and be patient with them. There will still be busts — there are even with guys who spent years in college — but teams are in better positions to make it work.

The other thing I would want to see: If a player signs with an agent out of high school, does not get drafted, give him the chance to go to college still. Some young men are going to get terrible advice (from family, AAU coaches, friends, a whole lot of people) and they deserve a chance to choose a better path.

Report: Hawks near buyout with Ersan Ilyasova; Bucks, Raptors interested

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This is about as big a surprise as my wife crying during “This Is Us,” but it sounds like it’s about to go down.

The Hawks and Ersan Ilyasova are close to a buyout, reports Michael Cunningham at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Hawks and forward Ersan Ilyasova tentatively agreed to a buyout of the remainder of his contract, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. Once Ilyasova accepts a buyout and clears waivers, as expected, he will be free to sign with any other team for the rest of the season.

Ilyasova’s contract expires at the end of the season and he is eligible to become a free agent in the summer. Earlier this month, Ilyasova invoked his right to reject the trade offers the Hawks presented to him.

Where might he land on the buyout market?

A lot of teams could use a 6’10” guy who can space the floor as a shooter. Ilyasova signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Hawks this season. He’s averaged 10.9 points per game, shooting 35.9 percent from three this season, and missed some time with a shoulder injury.

Ilyasova is solid as a spot-up guy but is more dangerous as a screen setter where he can pop out and space the floor, or roll and use his size inside. He’s also good at cutting and working off the ball, plus will get a team a few offensive rebounds. He’s not a game changer, but in certain matchups, he could help teams a lot.

Report: Warriors, Timberwolves, Thunder interested in Joakim Noah if he is bought out by Knicks

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Hand me the salt shaker, I’m going to need some extra for this rumor.

My skepticism aside, let’s pass this rumor along: If Joakim Noah can reach a buyout with the Knicks, at least three playoff-bound teams have interest in him, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

According to league sources, several playoff-bound teams are closely monitoring Noah’s situation in New York and would push to sign him if Noah becomes a free agent.

The Warriors, Timberwolves and Thunder are three such teams that believe Noah, who turns 33 on Sunday, could bolster their respective rosters for the postseason.

A few thoughts.

First, I don’t question that the well-connected Isola got this from a reputable source.

My question is who leaked it? Or, better yet, who benefits from leaking it? That would be the Knicks — they want Noah to agree to a low enough buyout number that it’s a real benefit to them. The idea that playoff teams — and the leading title contender at that — interested in Noah’s services helps the Knicks make a case that he has good options where he gets on the court if he agrees to the buyout terms. Leaking this is a way to ramp up a little public pressure.

That doesn’t mean it’s not true, either. It’s not hard to picture these teams having interest: Tom Thibodeau loves bringing back former players, and both the Warriors (who started JaVale McGee Thursday) and Thunder could use help on the front line. Do any of them think Noah can provide that help at this point? He has been a shell of his former self in recent years. Would those teams actually sign Noah? Who knows, and for the Knicks they don’t care.

Noah is owed $36.5 million for the two seasons after this one, which is why trading him is next to impossible. In a somewhat similar situation in Atlanta Dikembe Mutombo took about $10 million off his salary in a buyout, would Noah do that to get on a contender? That’s what the Knicks are hoping.

Lonzo Ball on college basketball: ‘Everybody knows everybody’s getting paid. Might as well make it legal’

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The logs of payment by Andy Miller’s former agency to high school and college basketball players leaked today.

That has sparked discussions about the entire system, and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball has a thought.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Simply, I don’t believe Ball about not getting extra compensation at UCLA. That sounds like he caught himself going further then he wanted and attempting to backtrack.

I can see why Ball wouldn’t want to admit getting extra benefits. He still knows people at UCLA, and an NCAA inquiry based on his comments could hurt them – and his reputation at UCLA.

But NBA players should be outspoken on this issue. They have the power to apply pressure on the NCAA’s cartel system, in which schools collude to limit compensation to athletes. As long as that system remains, college players lose out, getting only under-the-table scraps, while coaches and administrators hoard the major money.

Good for Ball for pointing out the farce. It’s easy to stop caring once players reach the NBA and gets rich, but NBA players are uniquely equipped to shine a light on the NCAA’s problems.