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 on surpassing Michael Jordan: “It’s a personal goal”

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Since he was a teenager, LeBron James has been compared to Michael Jordan. That comparison has usually been used as a way to cut him down or explain why he’s not in the same class, but that’s changed since he won his third championship, and first in Cleveland, in June. Now, LeBron has started to be a lot more open about his desire to eventually surpass Jordan. He said so in an interview with the AP’s Tom Withers after practice on Tuesday:

Now that LeBron James has won a championship for the ages, he’s set a loftier goal:

Catching Michael Jordan.

Long flattered to be mentioned in the same company with Jordan and other NBA legends, James has been hesitant to publicly acknowledge that he wants to be remembered as the greatest in league history.

It’s time now.

“It’s a personal goal,” James told The Associated Press on Monday. “I just never brought it up. It’s my own personal goal to be able to be greater than great. I think that should be everybody’s personal goal.”

Now that James has indisputably cemented his legacy as one of the handful of greatest players ever to play the game, he has a lot less to lose by openly talking about these things. Five years ago, he would have gotten killed for bringing it up. Now? It just seems plausible more than anything else.

Kevin Durant says Nike didn’t influence his free-agency decision

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Many different factors went into Kevin Durant‘s decision this summer to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors — basketball fit, location, his friendships with Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, and more. But one thing he wants to make sure you know didn’t influence him is Nike. Durant told reporters this week that the shoe company, which he endorses, didn’t steer him one way or another in free agency, and they didn’t even know his plans beforehand.

It’s a little hard to believe that Nike had zero advance knowledge of Durant’s plans — if not a hard answer, at least a strong indication of which way he was leaning. Durant was one of the most popular players in the league in Oklahoma City, so Nike would have been fine either way. But his presence in Golden State, a much bigger market and the dominant story in the NBA this season, will only help them. It doesn’t hurt, either, that they now have one of their biggest athletes in the same market as Stephen Curry, who had been taking advantage of all the attention on the Warriors to raise Under Armour’s profile. Now, Nike can get some of that spotlight back in the Bay Area.

Barnes, Bogut highlight latest round of changes for Mavs

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 08:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors reacts in Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut are in, Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia are out and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle has a retooled roster for the sixth consecutive time since winning a championship.

“Well, we love it,” Carlisle said at media day this week as someone chuckled. “What’s more exciting than getting seven new guys? New blood. It’s fresh every year.

“Really, that wasn’t meant to be a joke,” he added. “If you view it as a negative, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be a negative. I don’t look at it that way.”

The Mavericks have made the playoffs all but one season since the constant turnover started after owner Mark Cuban chose salary cap flexibility over keeping a few key players when a new labor agreement was reached six months after his team won the title in 2011.

But Dallas still hasn’t won a postseason series since beating Miami in six games in those NBA Finals.

Repeated efforts to land big names in free agency failed, which this year led to the additions of Barnes and Bogut from 2015 champion Golden State after the Warriors lured Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City and had to unload both starters to make cap room for the four-time NBA scoring champion.

Barnes headlines the group of newcomers because he’ll be a top option on offense after signing a four-year, $94 million max contract. Over his four seasons with the Warriors, he was always a role player behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

“It’s going to be bigger expectations and I’m going to have a larger role on this team,” Barnes said. “I feel like we have a lot of pieces this year, either coming back off injury, guys who are motivated, have a lot to prove. So hopefully we can all come together and do something special.”

There’s actually some stability in the starting five because point guard Deron Williams is back for a second season with his hometown team.

Nowitzki, going into his 19th season at age 38, says Williams was the best player on the team at times last season, and the Mavericks missed him in their five-game loss to Oklahoma City. He was limited by a sports hernia injury that required offseason surgery.

Parsons signed a max deal with Memphis, and Pachulia went to the Warriors after the trade that landed Dallas the 7-footer Bogut, who should be a much stronger shot-blocking presence than his predecessor.

The changes fit the formula of at least two new starters each season going back to the title year.

“There are similarities to other years,” Carlisle said. “The ability to add Bogut and Barnes was huge for us. We caught some good luck on that.”

The other notable newcomer is Curry’s younger brother, Seth Curry, who is on his fifth team in his fourth season but finally had a more prominent role last season in Sacramento. Former Baylor standout Quincy Acy is in Dallas after bouncing around his first four years.

The Mavericks are deep at guard with holders J.J. Barea and Devin Harris behind Williams and Wes Matthews, in his second season as the shooting guard and now more than a year removed from tearing an Achilles tendon his final season in Portland.

Also returning are athletic young forwards Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell along with 7-2 Tunisian center Salah Mejri, a surprising shot-blocking presence last season as a 30-year-old rookie.

“They’re definitely athletes and we should be able to have a great defensive lineup once I’m out,” said Nowitzki, poking fun at his defensive skills. “I think we have a (backup) lineup out there that could be really, really good, and obviously youth and athleticism is a big part.”

Barnes wanted to be a part of it even though the Mavericks appear further from championship contention than other Western Conference teams.

“I think when you look at what this franchise has done year in, year out, stable on their ship,” Barnes said. “And be able to learn from a guy named Dirk who’s done it year in, year out. He’s pretty much built this place through his work ethic.”

And now Nowitzki is getting used to another new collection of teammates.

Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

Jazz’s Dante Exum says his knee is completely healed from 2015 ACL tear

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 17:  Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz drives to the lane during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 17, 2014 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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After a promising rookie season, Dante Exum missed all of 2015-16 rehabbing a torn left ACL he suffered during an exhibition game with the Australian national team in summer 2015. As the Jazz kick off training camp, Exum says he’s fully recovered after his year off and he’s ready to go.

Via Jody Gennessy of the Deseret News:

“I was just excited to get back out there,” Exum said after the first of two practices Tuesday. “I was feeling good. … I was just ready to come out there, talk when I can and run between every drill.”

Both his attitude and his body were at 100 percent as he returned from a yearlong rehab that followed his September 2015 surgery on his left knee that had been injured in a friendly international game with the Australian team.

With the Jazz’s trade for George Hill over the summer, Exum won’t have to be the starting point guard, which will take some pressure off of him to get back to full strength right away. A torn ACL is something that usually takes time to return from, and having guard depth to ease his workload will help with the transition. If the Jazz get good production out of Exum, it will be a bonus for what looks to be one of the most exciting young teams in the Western Conference.