Bulls energy, defense too much for Nets in easy Chicago win

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Last year in the first round of the playoffs the Bulls defeated the Nets because they were tougher — their energy, their execution, their aggressive, physical style of play knocked the Nets off their game. It felt like finesse against power, and power won. Even if the Bulls were without their MVP. So this summer the Nets went out and added Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who should change that dynamic.

Not Thursday night.

The last game before the All-Star break looked a lot like that series last season — the Bulls played with more energy, they executed better at both ends and their physicality knocked the Nets off their stride. It was the second night of a back-to-back for the Nets, but they looked at points wanting to start their vacation a few days early.

The result was a comfortable 92-76 win for the Bulls. That’s three straight wins for a Bulls team that at 27-25 seems to be on pace for a top four seed in the East and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Brooklyn at 24-27 are still the seven seed in the East and they start up after the break with six straight road games. What they don’t want to happen is to start slow and lock themselves into one of those bottom two seeds and face Indiana or Miami in the first round.

Chicago’s offense has been a little better of late — they’ve had an offensive rating of 102 points per 100 possessions in their last five games, up more than four per 100 in their last five game. That continued in this game, particularly at the start thanks to Carlos Boozer (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Taj Gibson (16 points, five rebounds). Noah had 14 points and 13 rebounds. Chicago shot 50 percent as a team in this game and they had a double-digit lead in the first quarter.

The Nets nibbled away at it that lead, making little runs and keeping it close at the end. Paul Pierce led the Nets with 15 points on 4-of-11 and shooting, which was better than Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, each of whom was 4-of-14 on the night.

Yet the Nets hung around and you wondered if there could be a late run. And there was…

By Chicago. The Bulls went on 9-0 run that starts with just under five minutes left in game, a run put them up by 12. They did it with some nice shooting, but mostly with defense and energy.

That’s why the Bulls beat the Nets in the playoffs last season, and that’s why the Bulls scare other teams more in the playoffs than the Nets do right now.

Rumor: Paul George told former Pacers teammates he wanted to join the Lakers

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Paul George to the Lakers is a capital-T thing.

George is from Southern California, and he keeps indicating his dissatisfaction with the Pacers. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Even Lakers president Magic Johnson is talking about George.

Where do rumors like this originate?

Mitch Lawrence of Sporting News:

A SoCal native, he’s been talking about playing for his hometown team, the Lakers, for a long time. He’s never made his long-term intentions a secret within the Pacers’ locker room, according to former teammates. He wants to wear the purple and gold.

Did George say he dreamed of playing for the Lakers growing up? Did he say it’d be cool to join his boyhood favorite team if the situation presented itself? Or did he say he wanted to get the heck out of Indiana to join the Lakers as soon as possible?

There are so many ways his comments to teammates could get misconstrued as they get passed down in the game of telephone.

But the Lakers threat – to whatever degree it’s real – looms, and it’ll impact how the Pacers handle their offseason.

Jazz call deactivating Jeff Withey, who was accused of domestic violence, ‘strategic basketball-related decision’

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Jazz Center Jeff Withey was accused of domestic violence in a police report filed by his ex-fiancée.

Withey played a small role in Utah’s first two playoff games, but once the accusation over an alleged 2016 incident became public, he hasn’t seen the court. Withey received a DNP-CD in Game 3 against the Clippers, and the Jazz deactivated the center for Game 4 last night.

Ryan McDonald of the Deseret News:

The team called it a “strategic basketball-related decision.”

Withey was always going to see a reduced role with Rudy Gobert returning from injury.

Though Gobert didn’t play in Game 3, the Jazz had two injured players – Gobert and Alec Burks on the inactive list – so Withey was active but never played. But Withey was active for Game 1, which Gobert started healthy before injuring his knee 11 seconds in.

Therefore, deactivating Withey in Game 4 for Joel Bolomboy, a little-used second-round rookie who has yet to play in the postseason, is a curious choice for basketball reasons. It’s almost as if that wasn’t the reason.

Russell Westbrook on Rockets laughing at Andre Roberson missing free throws: ‘Probably the guys that don’t play’

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The Rockets bench made a big production when an intentionally fouled Andre Roberson kept missing free throws in the Thunder’s Game 4 loss to the Rockets yesterday.

Russell Westbrook stuck up for his teammate.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Westbrook:

I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it at all. Probably the guys that don’t play, probably over there the ones laughing, if I had to guess.

Good guess. It appears Montrezl Harrell and Bobby Brown – whose only playing time this series came late in Houston’s blowout Game 1 win – led the jeers.

But the most important thing for the Thunder is Roberson making his free throws. They need him on the court to defend James Harden, which exposes him to hacking. If Westbrook deflecting attention onto the Rockets’ benchwarmers helps Roberson at the line, great. But if not, the Rockets will keep having reasons to laugh.

Magic Johnson winks at bringing Paul George to Lakers

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Paul George-to-the-Lakers rumors have swirled for a while.

New Lakers president Magic Johnson will only fuel them.

Asked how he’d interact with the Pacers star to avoid tampering if they ran into each other, Johnson said on Jimmy Kimmel Live:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

In explaining how he’d avoid tampering, Johnson probably tampered. Accidental tampering appears to be his specialty.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement says team employees can’t permissibly “induce, persuade, or attempt to entice, induce or persuade, any Player who is under contract to, or whose exclusive negotiating rights are held by, any other Member of the Association to enter into negotiations for or relating to his services or negotiate or contract for such services.” But the league arbitrarily enforces tampering, so who knows whether he’ll be punished?

Johnson almost certainly could have gotten away with the hypothetical conversation he laid out. But going on television and describing it — even as fantasy, even not directly to George — could constitute tampering in itself,

If Johnson helps attract George to Los Angeles, it’d well be worth it. At least he’s trying something.