Brooklyn Nets v Chicago Bulls

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.

Add Kobe Bryant to don’t change hack-a-player crowd

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant gestures after hitting a three point shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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LeBron James is already there. So is Kevin Durant. Same with a lot of other old-school GMs and coaches around the league.

Their response to the rapid rise in hack-a-player (shouldn’t it always be hack-a-Shaq?) instances is “tell the guy to hit the free throws.”

Add Kobe Bryant to their ranks, reports Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is starting to feel differently. He realizes he runs an entertainment business and a parade of guys to the free throw line without because of a non-basketball play — you can’t begin to tell me fouling a guy 50 feet from the ball is a basketball play in the spirit of the rules — is bad for that business. It is unwatchable. And while every coach in the NBA “I hate to do it” they all do it with more and more frequency, there will be more than twice as many instances this season as there were a year ago, with more and more players involved. Because it works, and because they are paid to win, not play beautiful basketball.

Change is coming. Old-school types always bemoan change, and that’s not just a basketball thing. But the rest of the world has rules in place to stop this because they realize it’s not basketball, it’s gaming the system. And it needs to change.

Timofey Mozgov with maybe “best” missed dunk of the season (VIDEO)

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On this play the Sacramento Kings played defense like only they can — and you wonder why George Karl’s job is in danger — and gave Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov a wide-open lane right down the middle for an easy dunk.

Ooof.

LeBron James had a triple-double (the 40th of his career) and the Cavaliers got a needed easy win, but this is the play you’ll remember.

Karl-Anthony Towns with nasty poster dunk on Dante Cunningham (VIDEO)

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Karl-Anthony Towns is a beast.

While the Timberwolves have plenty of question marks around him, but Towns has been exceptional. Coming into Monday night, he was averaging 21.6 points (on 59.9 percent shooting) and 12.7 rebounds a night in his last 10 games.

Then Monday he did that to Dante Cunningham.

The Pelicans went on to win the game 116-102, but Towns continues to play well.

Report: Come 2017, Knicks have real shot to land Russell Westbrook

during the first half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
Russell Westbrook
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The summer of 2016 is all about Kevin Durant — and we don’t know what Durant is going to do as a free agent because Durant doesn’t yet know what Durant is going to do as a free agent. Stay in Oklahoma City, bolt to the Bay Area or maybe Washington D.C.? These playoffs, meetings with teams and his advisors, plus personal factors all will play a role in Durant’s decision. Which he will get around to announcing in early July sometime.

But the sense around the league is that while Durant may very well stay in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook was drawn to the bright lights of big markets. If an elite player were to bolt OKC, this was the more likely guy. Westbrook is a free agent in 2017.

In an article about Phil Jackson and the Knicks in the wake of Derek Fisher’s firing, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the Knicks have a real shot at Westbrook in a couple of summers.

The Knicks have a real chance to sell Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in 2017 – New York and Porzingis have his attention, yes – and Jackson ought to start constructing an elite coaching staff to begin that process with Westbrook and with free agents beyond him.

Come 2017, expect Westbrook to meet with a number of big market teams on both coasts, and then make a decision. The summer of 2017 is a couple of NBA lifetimes away, it’s impossible to say what Westbrook will do (he may well decide to stay in OKC if they win enough), but the big market teams looking for a star will get their turn in the batter’s box.

Which is why I still think Durant signs a 1+1 deal this summer to stay in Oklahoma City for another season — he’s going to give everything another chance to come together for the Thunder, then when the salary cap is at its peak in 2017 (an estimated $108 million) he makes his peak seasons decision. He and Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will all be free agents at the same time, and they can make their calls.

And the Knicks could be involved in all of it.