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.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.