Who are Rookie of the Year favorites? Burke, Oladipo to start

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There’s a formula for who often wins the Rookie of the year. They have to be a good player, certainly. More than that, he needs to be a player with the ball in his hands and on a team where he is going to be asked to take on a lot of responsibility.

Damian Lillard was a perfect example last season in Portland. Before him Kyrie Irving, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Brandon Roy, Chris Paul all fit the mold — that accounts for seven of the last eight ROY winners. (Blake Griffin was a bit of an anomaly in that the ball wasn’t in his hands, but he was pretty spectacular as a rookie.)

So who are the favorites this year? It feels a little more wide open than other seasons, but here are my top five in order of :

1) Trey Burke, Utah Jazz. He fits the formula perfectly — he is a point guard going to a team that desperately needs a point guard, and he has some young but potentially impressive talent around him (Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter). Burke is going to be asked to do a lot in Utah and he should put up good numbers as a rookie. He needs to be steadier from the outside, we’ll see how he defends, but he is the preseason favorite.

2) Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic. He’s not a point guard (we saw that in Summer League) but he is a guy going to get a real opportunity to learn on the job and play a role in the Orlando offense. The question is does he sit a little behind Aaron Afflalo, still he should be able to carve out space to put up numbers, particularly in transition. He could be the best defender of the top rookies.

3) Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings. Yes there was an extended shooting slump during Summer League, and because he’s a rookie there likely will be one during the season. But he remains a good pure shooter on a team where he will get chances to space the floor and finish in transition. Once he gets comfortable he could put up big numbers.

4) Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers. You have to put the No. 1 overall pick on the list. It will be interesting to see how Cleveland uses an undersized four on a team with Anderson Varejao, but he’s got the athleticism to score in the post and he has Irving feeding him the rock. He could find a groove in the offense and put up good numbers.

5) Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats. Charlotte is going to have Al Jefferson setting up camp in the post, which means Zeller is going to have to be a four who can work off the ball, space the floor with a midrange shot, then crash the glass hard when the opportunity presents itself. He showed all those skills in Summer League. How many touches he gets on the court with Jefferson and Kemba Walker remains to be seen, but he could surprise with nice numbers.

Bonus Dark Horse: Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics. He looked fantastic for a stretch in the Orlando Summer League. He is certainly going to get minutes along the Celtics front line and he’s shown a real ability to score. If he can keep doing that against the more athletic men of the NBA he could sneak into the race. It is possible Otto Porter and C.J. McCollum could as well.

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.

Watch Paul George lose JR Smith, put Cavaliers guard on skates with crossover

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Game 4 between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was hotly-contested in the first half. The Cavaliers led, 58-52, after two quarters.

But one special play came when Indiana’s Paul George put JR Smith on his heels, with the Cavaliers guard reeling back some 10 feet after a pull-back crossover left George alone at the 3-point line.

Via Twitter:

You might say George pushed off with his left hand, but you could also point out that Smith then turned a flop-like head kick into an actual blown defensive assignment.

Cleveland completed the series sweep on Indiana with the win, 106-102.

Kobe Bryant’s new Canvas video is brought to you by the letter O (for Obsession)

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Kobe Bryant’s Canvas series returned to our television screen on Saturday. The Sesame Street-like videos center around finding a place to draw motivation from in order to, as the most recent video says, dominate the will of your opponent.

They’re … weird.

They are also extremely Kobe-ish in that they stay true to the former Los Angeles Lakers great’s internal vision of how to play basketball.

The last one we saw was all about finding a musecage, and using your dark thoughts to propel you to win. This one is all about obsession, and how that emotion separates those who like to win from true competitors.

I’m personally all for these videos. They are maybe a little cheesy, or single-minded, but that’s sort of the point. It accurately reflects Kobe, which is something you don’t often see from retired players trying to transition their brand from player to former player.

Isaiah Thomas scores 33, Celtics beat Bulls 104-95 to tie series

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CHICAGO (AP) Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, and the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 104-95 on Sunday to tie their first-round playoff series at 2-all.

Boston blew a 20-point lead, but Thomas keyed a third-quarter run that put the Celtics back on top after Chicago briefly went ahead.

Gerald Green made four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points, helping the top-seeded Celtics return the favor in Chicago after dropping the first two games at home. Al Horford added 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston.

Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls with 33 points and nine assists. Nikola Mirotic and seldom-used Isaiah Canaan each scored 13 points, but Dwyane Wade finished with just 11.

Canaan made his first appearance since April 10, with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg searching for help at point guard with Rajon Rondo missing his second straight game because of a broken right thumb.

The Celtics led by 20 in the second quarter and were still up 10 in the third when Chicago scored 12 straight. The Bulls went ahead 65-63 on Robin Lopez‘s hook shot with 4:35 left in the quarter.

Thomas answered with back-to-back layups and scored 10 points in a 12-0 run that gave the Celtics a 75-65 lead, and they withstood a push by the Bulls early in the fourth.

With Thomas and Green each scoring 16 in the first half, the Celtics carried a 57-46 lead into the break.

Butler led the Bulls with 17 in the half. But the offense struggled in a big way with Rondo unavailable. Jerian Grant started and went to the bench after about five ineffective minutes. Michael Carter-Williams then picked up two quick fouls, forcing the Bulls to go with Canaan in the first quarter.

The Celtics, meanwhile, led 41-21 early in the second quarter. But things started to turn after Canaan stole the ball from Marcus Smart and scored on a layup.

Smart feigned throwing the ball at Butler. The two came nose to nose, resulting in technical fouls for both players, and the Bulls started to shoot their way back into it.

Mirotic hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight in the quarter. Bobby Portis cut it to 52-42 with his basket late in the half, and Butler hit two free throws with 22.6 seconds left to make it 57-46.

RONDO FINED

The NBA fined Rondo for attempting to trip Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder from the bench in Game 3. Crowder jawed at the Bulls’ bench after hitting a jumper and Rondo extended his leg as Crowder walked by.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas was just 1 of 9 on 3-pointers but made 12 of 13 free throws.

Bulls: Butler made 19 of 23 foul shots after failing to get to the line in Game 3. … Canaan was inactive for the first three games.