Derrick Rose: ‘My game is totally different’

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Derrick Rose hasn’t played a game in front of his hometown fans in Chicago in almost nine months, after suffering a knee injury last November that once again put a premature end to one of his NBA seasons.

That changes on Saturday, when Rose will be in the starting lineup for Team USA as they take on Brazil in an exhibition game at the United Center.

Rose seemed to be pressing a bit the last time he returned from injury, which was at the beginning of the 2014 season. He missed all of 2013 due to a torn ACL suffered near the end of the 2012 regular season.

This time, however, Rose is feeling much more confident — in part due to the way he feels that his game has changed.

From Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago:

“My game is totally different,” Rose said. “When I came back last time, I was just trying to get in a groove. I think I felt a nice little groove. My confidence is high right now, and I think even playing in the game [Saturday] you’ll be able to see by the way that I attack the players defensively. And by the way I play offensively, just not rushing anything and just taking my time on pick and rolls and just letting the play develop.”

Since Team USA camp opened over two weeks ago in Las Vegas, Rose has been open about the fact he was pressing during his initial comeback last season from a torn ACL in his left knee. …

“I think he’s improving,” said Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, an assistant coach with Team USA. “I think his approach is a lot better. I think he was so anxious last year to come back, he was almost forcing things. I think he has a much better understanding now. Show more patience, find the rhythm of the game, go out there run the team.”

Rose has discussed previously how he isn’t seeking contact as much on drives to the basket in order to lessen the wear and tear on his body, and so far, the signature sharp changes of direction, both on the perimeter and in the paint, seem to have lessened, as well.

Some wondered if Rose (or any of his USA Basketball teammates) would have been shaken enough by the injury to Paul George to reconsider participating with the team this summer. But after missing almost all of two consecutive NBA seasons, playing a key role in helping his team compete at the FIBA World Cup feels like something Rose needs — both for his confidence to continue to grow, as well as for him to get more acclimated to the way his game has changed.

Marreese Speights opts out of Clippers contract

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The Clippers are unraveling.

Of course, whether they can re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the big questions. But they also must deal with smaller matters in free agency – like Marreese Speights.

Speights will opt out, his agent tweeted:

The Clippers will hold Speights’ Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), allowing them to give him a starting salary up to $2,540,346 without using cap space or the mid-level exception.

The 29-year-old Speights, a stretch five who takes charges, fits the modern NBA. He could probably get more if he seeks it.

The Clippers won’t have cap space unless they lose Paul and Griffin, and at that point, re-signing a veteran like Speights is of little use. So, it would likely require the taxpayer mid-level exception or Speights taking a discount to keep him.

Luc Mbah a Moute can and likely will also opt out, and he’ll fall in the same Non-Bird situation. The Clippers would likely prioritize their mid-level exception for him – if it’s enough for either player.

Keeping Paul and Griffin is of the utmost importance, but that’s not the Clippers’ only challenge. Even if they keep those two stars, assembling even a decent supporting cast will difficult. Possibly losing J.J. Redick is the main issue there, but handling Speights’ and Mbah a Moute’s roster spots will also be pivotal.

Warriors struggle to get Zaza Pachulia’s 2017 NBA Finals hat on his big head (video)

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Zaza Pachulia became the villain of the Western Conference finals when he injured Kawhi Leonard and torpedoed the Spurs chances of upsetting the Warriors.

But his teammates stood by him – then shared this fun moment with him after Golden State won the West.

Reporter asks Spanish-speaking Manu Ginobili whether he just announced retirement (video)

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Manu Ginobili received an emotional sendoff in the Spurs’ season-ending – and maybe Ginobili’s career-ending – loss to the Warriors last night.

The postgame press conference featured a lighthearted moment when, after the Argentinian guard answered a couple questions in Spanish, an American reporter – not wanting to miss big news – asked whether Ginobili had just announced his retirement.

No, Ginobili assured the reporter. He says he plans to take a few weeks to consider his options.

Warriors make most dominant playoff run ever to NBA Finals

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Moses Malone famously predicted the 76ers team would go “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” in the 1983 playoffs, sweeping all three rounds in four games. Philadelphia didn’t quite do it – sweeping the Knicks, beating the Bucks in five then sweeping the Lakers for the title.

Thirty-four years later, an NBA team went “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” for the first time.

Golden State swept the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs in four-game series. But with an extra playoff round, the Warriors’ 12-0 run merely gets them to the Finals.

It’s the ninth undefeated run to the Finals, third since the league adopted four playoff rounds in 1984 and first since the first round became best-of-seven. The Lakers went 11-0 in the playoffs en route to the Finals in 2001 and 1989.

By winning an extra game and outscoring opponents by 16.3 points per game, Golden State now claims the most dominant postseason run to the NBA Finals ever.

Here are the top paths to the Finals, with Finals results, by playoff…

Record (point difference per game in parentheses):

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Point difference per game (record in parentheses):

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This doesn’t guarantee Golden State a championship. The Cavaliers (10-1, +11.9) are on track for an elite run to the Finals themselves, and they have LeBron James.

But the Warriors put ridiculous expectations on themselves by signing Kevin Durant to join a 73-win team featuring Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. I’m unsure a Golden State title this year will be properly appreciated, but so far, the Warriors are doing all they can to clear a bar set unreasonably high.