Miami Heat's LeBron James reacts after he was fouled as he stands with Chris Andersen during Game 2 of their NBA Eastern Conference semi-final basketball playoff against the Chicago Bulls in Miami

Awakened Heat undress Bulls by 37 to even series 1-1


In Game 1, Chicago outworked the Heat and we saw what the Heat look like when things don’t go their way.

In Game 2 Wednesday night, Miami outworked the Bulls and we saw what the Bulls looked like when things don’t go their way —it was ugly. Like Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson get ejected ugly. And that was probably good for them, they didn’t have to witness any more of this game.

In the end it was a 115-78 Heat win, the worst loss in Bulls playoff history. It looked like what you most feared could happen when an injury-riddled team ran into a highly motivated, talented side. And to make it worse when things went poorly for them the Bulls lost their composure.

The series is tied 1-1 and heading back to Chicago where you know the Bulls will put up a better fight. We’ll see if that is enough.

A few things went much better for the Heat in Game 2 (compared to their Game 1 loss), and that started with LeBron James. His 19 points and 9 assists are not dominating numbers, but early in the game he started to open things up with his drives — he started 6-of-6 in the first quarter and all the shots were in the restricted area. He got to the rim. The Bulls adjusted to that but then he dished out to shooters, things opened up for the Heat offense and the rout started to be on.

The other key was the Heat defense shut down the good looks the Bulls got in Game 1 — and Chicago couldn’t knock down the bad looks they hit anyway in Game 1. Nate Robinson, who has been the catalyst for the Bulls hitting pull up jumpers and dicing up opposing defenses, started out 0-of-4 from the floor and finished the game 3-of-10 for 11 points.

As a team the Bulls shot just 35.5 percent against a much more active Heat defense for the game.

The first half of the game had no flow, and while we’d like to credit the defenses for that we should really thank the referees — there were 28 personal fouls, five technical fouls and one flagrant foul all in the first half (nine techs for the game). While the game was more physical and at times chippy, the referes seemed to try to control the emotions with their whistles. Sometimes bad whistles (both ways, the referees were equal opportunity bad). That worked about as well as it always does.

Because of the lack of flow and both teams struggled from the floor for stretches, but the Heat still started finding points behind LeBron, who had all 19 of his points at the half. The Bulls helped with that — Chicago turnovers became Miami transition points. The Heat were not blowing out the Bulls much of the first 24 minutes, but they seemed more comfortable and were getting cleaner looks. Miami led 55-41 at the break.

Then in the third quarter the Heat blew it all wide open. Miami shot 59.1 percent in the quarter to Chicago’s 23.5 percent (4-of-17) and that led to a 30-15 third quarter romp for the Heat. The Heat lead was 19 by the end of the quarter and the fourth was really just extended garbage time.

Marco Belinelli led the Bulls in scoring with 13 points, but he needed 13 shots to get there. Ray Allen led the Heat with 21 points and Miami got a good game out of Norris Cole at both ends — 18 points and he is part of the reason Nate Robinson struggled.

The Bulls will play better and keep it closer once they get on their home turf. You know no Tom Thibodeau team will roll over, regardless of who does or doesn’t suit up for Game 3.

But will it be enough remains the question. The Heat had a lot of things go their way in Game 2, but they also looked vastly superior overall. It wasn’t perfect for Miami — Dwyane Wade still looked hobbled and LeBron didn’t need to score but he could. Yet the Heat defense was more what we saw during the season and the Bulls had no answers for all of it put together. And that frustrated them.

They won’t be frustrated next game, but with not a lot of arrows in the quiver it will be a lot harder for Tom Thibodeau to respond.

NBA: Warriors wins credited to Steve Kerr, Luke Walton can win awards

Luke Walton
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Later on Tuesday it will be announced that Warriors interim coach Luke Walton is the NBA Coach of the Month for November. (That’s not official yet, but seriously who else is going to get it?)

Yet Luke Walton’s record will remain 0-0 as a head coach. Those record 19 wins to start the season belong to Steve Kerr.

The league clarified its position to the media on Tuesday with a release:

…the head coach of record is credited with team wins and losses.  Steve Kerr remains the head coach of record for the Golden State Warriors and is credited with those results.  Additionally, any team head coach, interim head coach or acting head coach is eligible to be recognized with league coaching awards.  Therefore, Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton is eligible for NBA Coach of the Month.

The logic is that the systems installed in Golden State were put in place by Kerr, and while Walton has managed games he is not the overall architect of their success. Which is true. With all due to respect to what Walton has done Kerr laid the foundation for this team, Walton has managed it this season. He hasn’t crashed the car.

There still is no official timeframe for Kerr’s return from his back issues. He is around the team at the practice facility all the time, but is not coaching games or traveling with the team consistently.

This performance will be a significant step toward Walton getting job where his wins and losses will count on his permanent record soon enough.

Clippers’ Chris Paul exits game with “rib muscle strain” may miss time

Chris Paul, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, C.J. McCollum
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It happened in the third quarter, although it’s not clear exactly how. All anyone saw was Chris Paul calling a timeout to remove himself from the game (an eventual Clippers’ victory over the Trail Blazers) and grabbing his left side.

After the game, the Clippers said that Paul had suffered a “rib muscle strain.” CP3 will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, and then a timetable for his return will be set. It looks like he could miss a little time. Since the term “rib muscle strain” is intentionally vague we’re left to speculate a little: This could be an oblique muscle strain and if so they can be tricky, and it takes a couple of weeks (or more) to get back.

The Clippers might be wise to give Paul a little time away from the game; he has battled through a fractured finger and a strained groin this season. A little time off could help all of this. Paul played in all 82 regular season games for the Clippers last season, the first time he had done that in his career.

Paul is averaging 17.5 points and 8.4 assists per game, and the Clippers elite offense is 13.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor rather than sitting. Look at it this way, the Clippers’ most used lineup (Paul, J.J. Redick, Lance Stephenson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) outscores opponents by 19 points per 100 possessions, but sub Austin Rivers in for Paul and they get outscored by 13.8 per 100 and their defense falls apart. (For the record, I know that they are trying different players at the three and that Luc Mbah a Moute got the chance Monday, but I was using the lineups with the most played minutes to lessen the sample size error.)

The Clippers are not the same without Chris Paul, if he is out for any stretch of time, it’s a setback for a team that had seemed to start finding it groove.

Will Kobe Bryant’s pending retirement change how Lakers use him?

Kobe Bryant, D'Angelo Russell, Byron Scott
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This is Kobe Bryant‘s final season in the NBA; he made that clear with his announcement on Sunday. If for the Lakers organization that means they want Kobe to go out playing his way — still trying to create and make tough shots — then go right ahead. As evidenced by the reactions at Staples Center Sunday night, the fans love it.

But what should have been the Lakers’ primary goal for this season — developing young players D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance — has seemed at cross purposes with that. At least in the mind of coach Byron Scott.

So there it was in crunch time against the Pacers’ Sunday and Kobe and Nick Young were on the court while Russell watched from the bench. It gives the perception the Lakers don’t embrace the future.

Will how they use Kobe Bryant — and by extension the younger players — change now that Kobe has made it official this is his final season?

“I don’t know that I’ll change that much, as far as I want him to play,” Scott said. “I still want him to go out on a very positive note. And there’s a part of me that feels he is going to have those glimmers, having some of those games I know he’s capable of having.”

Scott’s job as coach, at least in his mind, seems to have been to make the last couple seasons of Kobe’s career comfortable. He said that Kobe has earned the right to take his tough, contested shots but has benched the players he’s tried to develop for their mistakes (and not clearly communicated to those players why they are sitting, if you ask the youngsters).

Beyond the coach, this is an organizational decision and priority.

“We have to huddle up and decide if there is going to be anything different in terms of minutes,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. “It’s not something that’s going to be decided today. But since he has made it clear this will be the last season for him, it will be more enjoyable and I think people can appreciate and will appreciate what he’s accomplished, not only in our building — with loads of love — but even more so on the road.”

Kobe isn’t going to change.

“I gave up hoping he would change his approach 15, 18 years ago,” Kupchak joked. “He is what he is. And I’m thankful for it.”

I understand the need to let the fans see Kobe be Kobe, to let him go out on his terms (although playing him 30+ minutes a night and saying the goal is to have him standing at the end of the season is an odd mix, Scott). The Lakers are selling Kobe while they try to develop their young players.

The question of how well they are developing them remains.

One thing I would like to see is more Kobe with the second unit, and by extension less with Russell and Randle. Kobe’s going to take his shots, but if he is taking those away from Nick Young or Lou Williams, so what? Let those guys fight over the ball a little (that would be entertaining). But then rest him and let Russell and Randle and the other youth learn to work together for long stretches without any of those ball dominating players on the court. That includes letting the kids close some games, even if it’s not pretty.

This was always going to be a rough Lakers’ season, although it is uglier than the team and its fans imagined. But that’s okay if the young players are getting their minutes, being coached up, and developing. The Lakers can’t let the Kobe farewell tour get in the way of that.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert with the crazy high alley-oop finish (VIDEO)

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I love that the Jazz were going to be themselves against the Warriors — two of our three best players are big men in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, and we are going to use them whether you go small or not. Those two have the athleticism to make that work in a way few teams can’t. The result was a close game, one ultimately won by the Warriors because Stephen Curry can do Stephen Curry things, but you had to love the way the Jazz played.

And you had to love this finish by Gobert in the fourth quarter.

This alley-oop is pretty well defended, but there’s not much a defender can do when you can lob the ball above the box on the backboard, and Gobert can just go get it and finish.