John Wall, Bradley Beal, Kirk Hinrich

With two wins in Chicago, Wizards seize control over Bulls

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Bradley Beal aggressively swung his arm, and Kirk Hinrich pushed Beal then removed his goggles as if to show he were ready for more.

Suddenly, a fairly common tangle during an inbound play turned bigger as teammates separated both players. Hinrich breathed heavily and stared daggers at Beal, who paced and smiled.

Like the second-quarter tussle, the Wizards were calm and loose and the Bulls were over-aggressive and tight in Washington’s 101-99 Game 2 overtime victory Tuesday. With a pair of stunning wins in Chicago, the fifth-seeded Wizards have taken a 2-0 series lead and complete control in the first-round matchup.

Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series on the road are 15-3, and half those series ended in sweeps.

  • 2011: Dallas Mavericks beat Los Angeles Lakers in conference semifinals, 4-0
  • 2010: Boston Celtics beat Orlando Magic in conference finals, 4-2
  • 2008: Utah Jazz beat Houston Rockets in first round, 4-2
  • 2005: San Antonio Spurs beat Phoenix Suns in conference finals, 4-1
  • 2005: Houston Rockets lost to Dallas Mavericks in first round, 4-3
  • 2003: New Jersey Nets beat Detroit Pistons in conference finals, 4-0
  • 2001: Los Angeles Lakers beat San Antonio Spurs in conference finals, 4-0
  • 1999: New York Knicks beat Atlanta Hawks in conference semifinals, 4-0
  • 1995: Houston Rockets beat Orlando Magic in NBA Finals, 4-0
  • 1995: Houston Rockets beat San Antonio Spurs in conference finals, 4-2
  • 1994: Phoenix Suns lost to Houston Rockets in conference semifinals, 4-3
  • 1993: Chicago Bulls beat Phoenix Suns in NBA Finals, 4-2
  • 1987: Seattle SuperSonics beat Houston Rockets in conference semifinals, 4-2
  • 1985: Philadelphia 76ers beat Milwaukee Bucks in conference semifinals, 4-0
  • 1983: Milwaukee Bucks beat Boston Celtics in conference semifinals, 4-0
  • 1977: Portland Trail Blazers beat Los Angeles Lakers in conference finals, 4-0
  • 1970: Los Angeles Lakers beat Atlanta Hawks in division finals, 4-0
  • 1969: San Francisco Warriors lost to Los Angeles Lakers in division semifinals, 4-2

Tuesday, the Wizards jumped to a 29-12 advantage and led until midway through the third quarter. But by the middle of the fourth quarter, the Bulls led by 10 – a 27-point swing.

Washington wasn’t rattled.

Beal scored nine of the Wizards’ 11 points in the final three minutes of regulation, and then Nene  – the Game 1 hero mostly held quiet – began overtime on a personal 6-0 run.

That overlapped with the Bulls missing 12 straight shots, a drought that extended back to late fourth quarter. As the Bulls scrambled the game just slipped further away. Still, with a chance to tie in the final seconds, Hinrich missed a pair of free throws.

Washington hadn’t made the playoffs in five years, and Chicago’s streak of making the postseason is even longer.

But that hardly mattered Tuesday.

Even when the Wizards seemed to run out of effective plays as they steadily blew their lead, they never let the moment overcome them. If Chicago were going to come back, it would take a prolonged, energy-draining effort.

And to the Bulls’ credit, they provided that.

D.J. Augustin (team-high 25 points and seven assists) ran pick-and-rolls over and over, and Taj Gibson (22 points and 10 rebounds) tore through Washington’s defense. Usually, getting such great contributions from reserves would boost a team to victory, but Chicago’s starters weren’t collectively up to snuff.

Joakim Noah (20 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two blocks) and Mike Dunleavy (nine points on six shots with four assists) played well, and Jimmy Butler played a lot (all 53 minutes). But Carlos Boozer (five points on six shots) struggled on both ends, Hinrich’s fervor did slightly more harm than good, and despite having many opportunities, Butler never made an imprint on the game.

At its worst, Chicago let its offense stagnate, settling for jumpers late in the shot clock. Unlike Game 1, when the Bulls scored just fine, that ultimately did them in.

The Wizards, on the other hand, found creative solutions to the trudge of playoff basketball and Chicago’s defense. With Noah and Gibson stifling the pick-and-roll better than Game 1, Washington focused more on spacing the floor. Beal finished with 26 points, and John Wall (16 points, seven assists and three steals) had his moments.

All that would have gone for naught, though, if it weren’t for a little attitude. In addition to Beal and Hinrich, Trevor Ariza and Joakim Noah received double technicals. The Wizards would just not back down against team everyone described to entering the series as – and often looked Tuesday – tougher.

“We expected it to be physical,” Beal said in his televised on-court interview. “It got out of hand a little bit, but we did a great job of staying the course.”

Beal withstood one more challenge after the game – a punishing chest slam from a pumped-up Wall. It’s just two games, but the fifth-seeded Wizards have every reason to celebrate their newfound triumph.

The Bulls, on the other hand, have seen better days and expected better even in this challenging season. As the Wizards patted each other on the back, Hinrich removed his goggles once again, dejectedly handing them to a Bulls staff member as he walked off the floor.

History says the Bulls are as likely to return to the United Center as they are to get swept in Washington.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.

James scores 33, Cavaliers reach second straight NBA Finals

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TORONTO — LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It’s the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it’s his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

“I had to bring my game,” he said. “I had to be in attack mode from the beginning.”

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith had 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday’s Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered “Let’s go, Raptors! Let’s go, Raptors!” throughout most of the final three minutes.

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland’s nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

TIP INS

Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. … Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

Reports: P.J. Carlesimo to join Sixers staff as Brett Brown’s lead assistant

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. 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.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last season, when new president Jerry Colangelo started shaking things up in Philadelphia, he brought in Mike D’Antoni to be a lead assistant next to Brett Brown. This led to all kinds of speculation around the league that the Colangelos were trying to bring back the old Suns brain trust (especially when Jerry hired his son Bryan to be GM).

However, D’Antoni jumped ship to be the head coach of the Houston Rockets.

Enter, P.J. Carlesimo.

Carlesimo is a good fit, but that’s not going to quell the rumors that the Colangelos are not comfortable with Brown (despite giving him a contract extension). The Sixers need to give Brown a legitimate shot — he’s been like a contestant on Chopped the past few seasons, given a ridiculous basket of ingredients and told to turn Mango, octopus and graham crackers into a four-star meal. He’s gotten them to play defense (at times) and started to build a culture. He has earned the chance to show what he can do with a better lineup.

Which is what the Sixers will have next season.

Nuggets’ Jusuf Nurkic likes idea of two-bigs lineup with Nikola Jokic

DENVER, CO - APRIL 5:  Jusuf Nurkic #23 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on April 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Thunder defeated the Nuggets 124-102. 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. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Late last season, Nuggets coach Mike Malone tried something out of the box the way the NBA is trending — playing two young bigs together. Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, the latter of whom finished in third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Small ball may be in vogue, but going big has worked pretty well these playoffs for Oklahoma City with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (and Serge Ibaka).

It didn’t work all that well for Denver — in just 92 minutes together the Nuggets were outscored by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, mostly because the offense was terrible.

But Nurkic wants to try it again next season, he told the Nuggets’ official Web site.

“I’m happy about the big lineup [with Nikola]. “Basketball has kind of changed. The NBA has gone smaller because of [the] Golden State [Warriors]. In the [Western Conference] semi-finals, look at [Oklahoma City’s Steven] Adams, [Enes] Kanter, and [Serge] Ibaka. They played all those guys and they see the difference. Me and Nikola have great communication because we played in the same league, we played against each other.”

He’s referring to their time in the Serbian league where the two played before going to the NBA.

While it could only be used situationally, expect Malone to experiment with this lineup more. There are some serious defensive questions (neither is exactly fleet of foot), and there could be spacing issues. But if the league moves one way, the smart teams and coaches think about counters.