Trevor Ariza focuses, lifts short-handed Wizards in Game 4

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Trevor Ariza didn’t celebrate his 3-pointer that put the Washington Wizards up 14-0. He didn’t motion to the crowd like his teammates when the Chicago Bulls took their second timeout in the game’s first four minutes. He didn’t reciprocate the pats on the back as he returned to the bench.

But when he cut baseline for a dunk that put Washington up 12 with a minute left, Ariza – the only Wizard with a championship ring – let loose.

He twisted off the rim, slapping the air on his way down. When he landed, he pumped his fists, jumped to shoulder bump Bradley Beal, yelled as he returned to the sideline, jumped to bump Martell Webster and gave high fives all around.

D.C.’s game-long celebration finally got Ariza’s stamp of approval.

Ariza scored a playoff career-high 30 points, leading the Wizards to a 98-89 Game 4 win over the Bulls on Sunday. By taking a 3-1 series lead, the Wizards have already won more playoff games than any season since 2005, and they’re one win – Game 5 is Tuesday in Chicago – from their first series victory since the same year.

With Nene suspended, Ariza elevated his game highest, but every Washington starter stepped up.

John Wall had 15 points, 10 assists and two steals. Bradley Beal scored 18 points on 13 shots. Not only did Ariza make 6-of-10 3-pointers, he contributed by more than just scoring, grabbing eight rebounds and two steals. Marcin Gortat posted 17 points, six rebounds and five assists. And Nene’s replacement, Trevor Booker, added eight points, nine rebounds and five blocks.

That unit – Wall, Beal, Ariza, Booker and Gortat – has now outscored the Bulls, 79-48, in 32 minutes this series .

The Wizards have found plenty of winning combinations, and that’s why they’re in control.

But the Bulls have a monster advantage, too. Tom Thibodeau just isn’t milking it enough.

Taj Gibson continues to thrash Washington, scoring 32 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Chicago just couldn’t score without him.

  • Gibson: 13-for-16  (81 percent)
  • Other Bulls: 22-for-62 (35 percent)

When Gibson played, Chicago’s offensive rating was 114.8. When he sat, it was 74.2.

Somehow, Thibodeau still played Gibson less than every Chicago starter besides Carlos Boozer (who nearly fouled out with five fouls in the third quarter alone).

Not even Mike Dunleavy, who scored 35 points in Game 3, helped. He staggered to the bench in the fourth quarter with a hand injury and didn’t return although he was medically cleared, finishing with six points on eight shots.

The Bulls will return to Chicago for Game 5, and maybe that gives them a jolt.

But Nene returns too, and Gibson won’t get as many opportunities to beat up Washington’s backup bigs, Drew Gooden and Al Harrington, as he had today.

What might have been the Bulls’ last chance to even this series fell apart nearly as quickly as it began. Eventually, even the focused Ariza had to acknowledge it.

Report: Timberwolves active in trying to land Paul George or Jimmy Butler

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Minnesota is one of the NBA’s best positioned up-and-coming teams. They have a franchise cornerstone in Karl-Anthony Towns, a quality No. 2 in Andrew Wiggins, maybe like Zach LaVine can blossom into an All-Star, and players such as Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica could be part of the picture. Maybe Ricky Rubio, too, although he’s further along his career arc. A lot of people look at this team and think around 2020, when the Warriors fade (or break apart), the Timberwolves can step up to elite.

Tom Thibodeau is apparently not willing to be that patient — he’s looking to get in the Paul George/Jimmy Butler talks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Thibodeau helped develop Butler in Chicago and they have a great relationship, he certainly makes the Timberwolves better next season. Same with George, although he’s a rental who almost certainly bolts after the coming season

My question to the Timberwolves: Why?

What was wrong with the building trajectory they are on? I get it, they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004, a ton of money was just sunk into upgrades at the Target Center, and the owner is not getting younger. Those are all non-basketball reasons to screw up what the basketball side is doing right. It’s the mistake of poor franchises to let that happen.

Could the Timberwolves use a point guard of the future, more depth on the wings and better defenders all around? You bet. But they don’t need to rush the development program either. If Minnesota can land Butler only giving up Rubio and a protected future first or something, sure, but the Bulls continue to ask a very high price for a deal.

Outside of personal feelings, why would the Timberwolves do that?

Report: LaMarcus Aldridge unhappy playing for Spurs

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The Spurs trading LaMarcus Aldridge – they’re reportedly shopping him – could open enough cap space to sign Chris Paul.

But that isn’t the only reason San Antonio is trying to move Aldridge.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

According to a person with knowledge of the Spurs forward’s situation, it’s the 31-year-old’s unhappiness in San Antonio that is the driving force behind the Spurs’ trade talks on Thursday. The five-time All-Star, according to the person, is hopeful that San Antonio can find a better fit for his talents.

Rumors about the Spurs trading Aldridge emerged early in the season, as he was reportedly unhappy about Kawhi Leonard getting the spotlight. When Aldridge signed with San Antonio, it seemed Leonard could do the heavy lifting as the team’s best player and Aldridge could get outsized credit as the leading scorer. But Leonard has emerged as the go-to offensive player, pushing Aldridge into a supporting role both in reality and reputation. Gregg Popovich calling out Aldridge publicly during the playoffs surely didn’t improve relations.

Aldridge turns 32 this summer and will likely become a free agent after next season. Wanting to leave the Spurs – held up as the NBA’s best culture – will raise additional red flags.

San Antonio might not get as much as it hopes in a trade for Aldridge. If Chris Paul is coming, the Spurs wouldn’t need as much for Aldridge. But they won’t know about Paul until July.

San Antonio also values building a roster of players who’ve, as Popovich puts it, “gotten over themselves.” If that’s not Aldridge, the Spurs might not want to keep him around.

There are numerous factors to weigh and incomplete information, but this is the twisting road San Antonio is navigating.

Here’s Knicks’ reported asking price from Celtics in Kristaps Porzingis trade

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Knicks president Phil Jackson’s asking price for Kristaps Porzingis is reportedly “massive.”

Just what does that mean?

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

According to a Knicks source, Jackson is asking for the third overall pick in Thursday’s draft as well as next year’s Brooklyn pick along with Jaylen Brown and Jae Crowder. This version of the deal would not include Boston taking on Joakim Noah‘s contract.

All the Knicks fans who threatened to relinquish their fandom if the team traded Porzingis – most would love this deal.

Would the Celtics? I doubt it.

The question is whether there’s a middle ground between what New York wants and what Boston would do. It’s possible Jackson won’t budge and is just shopping Porzingis on the off chance someone accepts outlandish requests like these and to teach Porzingis a lesson for skipping his exit meeting.

Report: First-round draft prospect says Phil Jackson fell asleep during his workout

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Like I said, there are better reasons to criticize Phil Jackson than him saying his priority was the Knicks and that he had discussed trading Kristaps Porzingis.

Jay Williams of ESPN:

A top-15 draft pick told me the other day, because we were involved in this out of this conversation about Phil Jackson and the Knicks, and he said, “Phil Jackson was falling in and out of sleep in my workout.”

Yes. “Falling in and out of sleep at my workout.” This is what this guy told me.

Especially given Jackson’s salary and reputation for not being a diligent worker, this story is too good to check out.